Cuban crackdown deplored

HAVANA APRIL 9. Governments and human rights activists around the world condemned Cuba's crackdown on the Opposition, saying that the quick trials and long prison sentences flagrantly violated international norms.

The crackdown is "the natural expression of a dictatorship that has been oppressing human rights for years," said the Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, a longtime critic of the President, Fidel Castro, during a visit to Madrid.

By Tuesday, local human rights activists confirmed that at least 75 members of the Opposition had been prosecuted on State security charges in summary trials lasting no more than one day each.

The known sentences for about half of them ranged from 15 to 27 years; the remaining sentences were expected by week's end.

Another four of those arrested in the crackdown were prosecuted on lesser crimes and received much shorter sentences, veteran activist, Elizardo Sanchez, said. "We are witnessing the harshest political trials of the past decade," said Mr. Sanchez, among the few leading Government opponents not arrested last month.

Some of the longest sentences were reserved for independent journalists, including 27 years for reporter and photographer, Omar Rodriguez Saludes; and 20 years each for poet and writer, Raul Rivero, magazine editor Ricardo Gonzalez, and economics writer Oscar Espinosa Chepe.

A lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Rodriguez Saludes was filed in the U.S. District Court in Miami on Monday, accusing Mr. Castro and other Cuban leaders of torture and unfairly convicting him in a closed-door trial.

The lawsuit is partly based on the Alien Tort Claims Act, which lets foreign residents sue in U.S. courts those who break ``the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.'' It also cites the 1991 Torture Victims Protection Act, which lets U.S. courts assess damages against individuals or governments accused of human rights abuses committed abroad.

There was no immediate reaction to lawsuit from Cuban officials in Havana and Cuban Interests Section in Washington didn't immediately return a call on Tuesday seeking comment.

The Cuban government accused the independent journalists — along with pro-democracy activists, opposition party leaders and other dissidents — of collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine the socialist State.

The crackdown, which ended several years of relative tolerance, began when Cuban officials criticised the head of the American mission in Havana, James Cason, for actively supporting the island's opposition.

— AP