In new tactics to control dissent, Cuba is banishing critics to the provinces, pushing them into exile abroad or restricting their movements in and out of Havana, Amnesty International and U.S. officials report.
The tactics have already contributed to the breakup of at least two opposition groups, while deterring foreign contacts with dissidents and helping to limit publicity abroad for Cuban human rights abuses.
``Interdictions of the freedom of movement can be very subtle and difficult to argue before international audiences,'' said Ricardo Bofil of the Miami-based Cuban Committee for Human Rights.
Most novel of the new tactics are the domestic banishments, which recall the days when dissidents in the Soviet Union like Andrei Sakharov were exiled to provincial cities usually off-limits to foreigners.
At least a dozen dissidents have been officially banished from Havana to provincial cities or have received police orders to leave the capital since March 1, human rights activists in Cuba reported. ``Amnesty International is particularly concerned at a new tactic of the Cuban government to . . . subject [dissidents] to internal exile,'' the London-based human rights group said in a recent report on Cuba.
Cuba began applying its banishment laws -- up to 10 years for anyone convicted of being ``socially dangerous'' -- in a campaign against prostitutes in Havana last year and the tourist resort of Varadero early this year. Police found that many of the prostitutes had moved in from the provinces without the needed government permission, and ordered them to go home under threat of jail if they returned.
Havana authorities also applied the law last fall when they deported several thousand illegal residents aboard trains, claiming that the migration had put a heavy burden on the capital's meager resources.
Exiled for `disrespect' The best-known case of political exile to the provinces is that of two University of Havana students, Radames Garcia de la Vega and Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, convicted of ``disrespect'' for founding a pro-democracy youth group.
They were sentenced in June to five years of banishment to their hometowns in eastern Cuba, Palma Soriano and Baracoa. In addition, Garcia de la Vega was sentenced to six months of house arrest and Rodriguez Lobaina to 12 months of house arrest. They are appealing, but have already been sent out of Havana. Their group has all but disappeared.
Most cases involve less formal sanctions, generally verbal police orders such as one issued to independent journalist Olances Noguera to leave Havana and return to his hometown of Cienfuegos.
Three other independent journalists living in provincial capitals have received such orders to stay away from Havana.
An Evangelical pastor in Havana, Alejandro Nieto, was ordered not to leave the province. And a Protestant minister in eastern Camaguey has been ordered not to leave that province, human rights activists in Cuba reported.
Such tactics are part of a 3-year-old Cuban strategy to avoid negative publicity by abandoning the tradition of imposing 20- and 30-year prison sentences on dissidents and instead resorting to low-key measures.
Banishments intimidate and wear down dissidents and force them to live in smaller cities and towns where they can be more easily monitored, said Amnesty International researcher Penny Allsop.
The Amnesty International report said it was also concerned about an apparent increase in the number of dissidents being threatened with prison unless they leave the country.
Cuban authorities in the past have often offered to free jailed dissidents if they agree to leave the country. But this latest twist involves pressures on dissidents not yet tried or even charged.
Independent journalist Rafael Solano said he was told by state security agents before he left for Spain this summer to go into exile or face charges of making ``enemy propaganda.''
And another dissident journalist, Yndamiro Restano, was not permitted to return to Havana after what was supposed to have been a brief trip abroad late last year to accept an international prize. He now lives in Miami, and the news bureau he founded to send news of Cuba abroad has folded.
Amnesty International said it has noticed little change in its estimate of ``prisoners of conscience'' in Cuba over the past three years -- about 600 -- despite a strong crackdown on dissidents early this year.
Cuban dissidents put the figure closer to 1,500 people clearly jailed for political crimes and another 1,500 dissidents jailed on unjust criminal charges such as currency speculation or theft of state property.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.