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US Strongly Condemns Cuba Dissident Crackdown

The United States is condemning in unusually strong terms the Cuban government's move to put on trial at least 78 political dissidents. The State Department says the dissidents face what it termed "summary justice" in "kangaroo courts."

The State Department is describing the Fidel Castro government's crackdown on dissent as the "most despicable act of political repression in the Americas in a decade."

It is calling on the international community to join the United States in condemning the action and in demanding the release of the defendants, whom it described as "prisoners of conscience."

The comments follow the announcement by Cuban authorities Wednesday that 78 opposition activists rounded up in recent weeks will be tried for treason and subversion.

Prosecutors are seeking prison terms ranging from 10 years on up, with 11 of the accused facing life imprisonment.

In a written statement condemning the trials, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said dozens of Cubans, whose only "crimes" were to demand fundamental rights, now face "summary justice in regime kangaroo courts."

He said the Cuban government has denied the international media and members of the diplomatic corps permission even to observe what he termed "these sham proceedings."

Mr. Reeker said well-known activists, including democracy advocate Marta Beatriz Roque, poet and journalist Raul Rivero, and labor activist Pedro Pablo Alvarez are among those facing life prison terms.

He said a number of the organizers of the internationally-acclaimed "Varela Project" democracy petition movement face 15-to-30 years imprisonment.

The crackdown began in mid-March, with authorities in Havana accusing dissidents of being part of an alleged anti-government conspiracy, led by the chief of the U.S. diplomatic interests section in Cuba, James Cason.

The Castro government has mounted an unusual campaign of personal attacks against Mr. Cason, who has traveled widely in Cuba meeting dissident figures since he became chief of the interests section, technically part of the Swiss Embassy, last September.

Spokesman Reeker said, while the rest of the hemisphere has moved toward greater freedom, the "anachronistic" Cuban government "appears to be retreating into Stalinism."