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US Renews Concern Over Jailed Cuban Activists - 2003-07-29

The United States renewed its concern Tuesday over the treatment of Cuban activists sentenced to long prison terms in a crackdown against dissent by the Fidel Castro government earlier this year. The State Department cited, in particular, the case of jailed economist Maria Beatriz Roque.

The State Department says it is "deeply concerned" about the failing health of Ms. Roque and is accusing the Castro government of deliberately mistreating her and the 74 others imprisoned in the wide-ranging move against the political opposition.

According to her family, the 57-year-old Ms. Roque, an independent economist and head of the dissident umbrella group the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, was transferred from prison to a military hospital in Havana last week because of high blood pressure, chest pain and nose bleeds.

In a written statement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the health of Ms. Roque, who faces a 20 year term, has worsened since her incarceration and the Cuban government should provide her with the best possible treatment.

Mr. Boucher said the 75 dissidents sentenced in what he termed the "brutal" crackdown in March, are being held in inhumane conditions, with poor sanitation, contaminated water, and nearly-inedible food.

He said the Cuban government appears, in his words, "to be going out of its way to treat these prisoners inhumanely" and said it should cease the practice and allow the appropriate humanitarian organizations to monitor their situation.

The 75 Cubans were given prison terms ranging from 12 to 28 years for treason and subversion for allegedly conspiring with officials of the U.S. diplomatic "Interests Section" in Havana against the Castro government.

Spokesman Boucher said their only real crime was to call for peaceful, democratic change in Cuba and they should be released immediately.