August 16, 1999
Web posted at: 8:29 PM EDT (0029 GMT)
HAVANA (Reuters) -- Cuban security forces prevented two anti-government demonstrations over the weekend by rounding up and temporarily detaining about two dozen activists, dissident sources in Havana said on Monday.
About 12 people were arrested trying to organize an opposition meeting on Saturday afternoon in the small town of Pedro Betancourt in Matanzas province, the sources said.
Another 11 opposition activists were detained on Sunday morning on their way to a planned demonstration in Havana's Lenin Park, while 20 others were driven away in a bus and released some distance from the park, the sources added.
Elizardo Sanchez, of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said virtually all the arrests appeared to have been temporary and intended to prevent disturbances and open protests against President Fidel Castro's communist government.
Sanchez said his outlawed human rights organization, the most prominent such group in Cuba, had confirmed that the 11 who had been rounded up in Havana were released by the evening. All but one of the 12 held in Matanzas also were freed over the weekend, he added.
In Matanzas, there had been reports of violence between police and activists during Saturday's incident, although that was not yet confirmed, Sanchez and other dissidents added.
Scores of relatives gathered outside the Pedro Betancourt police station after the arrests while pro-government groups organized two rowdy demonstrations, which they called "acts of repudiation," outside the homes of some of the dissidents' families.
There was no confirmation from government officials of either the Lenin Park or the Pedro Betancourt incidents.
The best-known dissidents among those reported to have been rounded up were Leonel Morejon, head of the environmental activist group Naturpaz that had organized Sunday's protest, and Oscar Biscet, president of the Lawton Foundation that apparently was holding a public meeting on Saturday with another dissident group in Pedro Betancourt.
Both men are considered relatively hardline dissidents among Cuba's small and fragmented internal opposition.
Both are urging a campaign of peaceful, civil disobedience against the Castro government and have organized similar activities in the past.
Biscet apparently still was being held late on Monday at a Havana detention center after being brought from Pedro Betancourt. He had been due to give a talk there, outlining his belief in the need for nonviolent resistance.
The government routinely condemns such opposition activists in Cuba as self-serving and publicity-seeking "counterrevolutionaries" supported and funded by the United States. Havana rejects the word "dissident" and accuses the foreign media of encouraging their activities.
A Reuters Television cameraman at Lenin Park on Sunday morning said the spot where Naturpaz had announced its protest against the government's environmental policies was occupied by a children's party and surrounded by security officers.
Sanchez said small, peaceful protests like the ones planned in Havana and Matanzas over the weekend appeared to be the current favored tactic of Cuba's internal opposition groups.
"It seems this type of demonstration, or protest incident, is going to continue, although always nonviolent," he said. "And it seems that the response by the authorities is going to continue to be disproportional -- with arrests and acts of repudiation."
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