May 24, 1999
By Andrew Cawthorne
HAVANA, May 24 (Reuters) - Cuba's Group of Four dissidents, jailed as U.S.-funded "counterrevolutionary" criminals in a case that prompted sharp foreign criticism, have appealed their sentences, their relatives and legal representatives said.
The appeals, based on legal technicalities, argued that the convictions should be overturned due to a series of alleged infractions of due process in their March 1 trial, the relatives and legal representatives said in recent days.
"We believe the sentence was unfair and we are exercising our right under the law to appeal it," said Magalys de Armas, wife of the best known of the four dissidents, Vladimiro Roca.
Diplomats and analysts in Cuba were skeptical, however, that the appeals, filed several weeks ago and without a specific time limit for a response from the court, would have any effect.
Havana was more likely to make concessions to foreign political pressure than to the four's legal teams, although that also appeared a distant prospect, they added.
Roca, 56, a former Cuban fighter pilot and son of the island's late communist hero Blas Roca, is serving the stiffest sentence of five years after the group was convicted of inciting sedition on the communist-ruled Caribbean island.
Dissident academic Felix Bonne, 59, and lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, 55, received four-year sentences, while economist Marta Beatriz Roque, 53, got 3-1/2 years.
The conviction of the four drew a wave of international criticism -- including from Cuba's biggest commercial partners Canada, Spain and Italy, but also from major Asian and Latin American nations such as Brazil and Japan.
The four have claimed they are representatives of peaceful opposition to President Fidel Castro's one-party rule -- an argument accepted by various governments around the world that have pressured Havana on their behalf.
But the Castro government rejects the word dissident, labeling the four as mercenaries and traitors whose foreign support comes from a "colossal anti-Cuban campaign" stirred by U.S. policy on Cuba and Western media distortions.
Cuba says the four were specifically proved guilty of receiving material backing from the United States, urging an election boycott, intimidating foreign investors, contacting anti-Castro exile "terrorist" groups and inciting Cubans abroad to make financial remittances conditional on change.
The four were arrested July 1997, shortly after issuing documents and holding news conferences criticizing the ruling Communist Party and urging political and economic reforms.
The appeals avoided the trial's political nature to try to pick holes in the prosecution case on specific points of law.
The appeal for Roque and Roca, drawn up by Cuban defense lawyer Amelia Rodriguez and seen by Reuters, alleged that certain evidence against the four was introduced in the trial without prior revelation by the prosecution, therefore "leaving them in a state of indefense."
Rodriguez also argued the four were not proven to have incited sedition, because no seditious acts resulted from their exhortations. Foreign investment, for example, kept rising, while there was a 98.35 percent turnout for the 1997 election.
Neither were the four guilty of "social indiscipline" for not belonging to Communist Party grass-roots organizations or not attending public rallies, because Cuban law did not make that obligatory, Rodriguez said.
The four's best-known document, "La Patria es de Todos" (The Fatherland Belongs to All), was the subject of "very subjective appreciations by the court" rather than any concrete proof its contents infringed the law, the appeal added.
The only crimes the four could be found guilty of under Cuban law would be "illicit association" and "clandestine printing," for which they would face a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment, which they all had more than served, she said.
The four have been moved in recent days to separate prisons across Cuba from the Villa Marista security center in Havana where they had been held since the trial.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited
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