October 22, 1999
By Andrew Cawthorne
HAVANA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Cuba denied on Thursday it was persecuting political opponents, despite claims of a government crackdown against heightened dissident activity ahead of an Ibero-American Summit next month in Havana.
President Fidel Castro's government also slammed the increasingly active local dissidents as U.S.-backed ``counter- revolutionaries'' whose actions it had the duty to ``neutralize.''
Asked about the subject, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez said: ``There is no persecution of opponents. Nor is there, let's say, an abnormal internal situation.''
He was responding to foreign journalists' questions at a regular weekly news briefing on Cuban dissidents' claims of multiple arrests, confinements and cases of harassment by state security services in recent weeks.
One non-government group, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said on Thursday it had confirmed 40 activists had been temporarily detained, or ordered to stay inside their homes, in the last three weeks.
In the latest incident, a large police operation successfully prevented dissidents reaching a meeting set for Wednesday in the San Miguel del Padron neighbourhood of Havana.
``There has been a net increase in politically-motivated repression so far in October,'' the unauthorised rights' group said in a statement signed by spokesman Marcelo Lopez Banobre.
Asked about that statement, Gonzalez said he would not respond to ``an organisation that does not exist.''
``We do not recognise the legal existence of organisations, let's say, in the sense that you talk about,'' he said.
``We do know about the existence of counter-revolutionary groups who are totally encouraged, oriented and financed by the U.S. government with the intention of creating situations and problems from within this country.''
The ministry spokesman added that the government reserved the right to act against agitators: ``Fortunately, they are few people, tiny groups ... who embark on this sort of counter- revolutionary activity which our government, with the support of the people, is always in a position to neutralise.''
Cuba's small opposition, divided into scores of tiny, illegal groups, has engaged in a flurry of activity in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to use the Nov. 15-16 Ibero-American Summit to make its voice heard.
The annual meeting, being held for the first time in Cuba, brings together heads of state from Spain, Portugal and Latin America. It is Cuba's most important event since Pope John Paul II's historic visit in January 1998.
Cuban dissidents have held a series of meetings, news conferences and other relatively low-level activities to press for reform to the one-party socialist system.
The activists have no access to state media, and are generally better known by foreign correspondents and diplomats than by the Cuban public at large.
Some of the more radical activists have been urging a campaign of civil disobedience, but most are limiting their calls to dialogue with the government, in power since Castro's 1959 Cuban Revolution.
Various Cuban dissidents, including most recently Leonel Morejon and Milagros Cruz, have reportedly gone into exile in the United States in recent days, after receiving permission to emigrate from both sides.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
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