Cuban authorities say their recent crackdown on dissent has destroyed what the communist government of President Fidel Castro describes as an attempt by U.S. diplomats to create political instability on the island.
After summary trials earlier this month, 75 dissidents were sentenced to prison terms of as much as 28 years. But a leading human rights advocate in Cuba says the repression has failed to stop the peaceful struggle for democracy.
Many of his friends and fellow dissidents are now in prison, but the head of Cuba's Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sanchez, remains at work in his modest Havana home. He is keeping track of the prisoners and the dissidents who are free. In a telephone interview with VOA, Mr. Sanchez insists that the imprisonment of some dissident leaders will not derail the movement for peaceful, democratic change.
He said what produces dissent in Cuba is the totalitarian model of government and the poverty and hopelessness it has caused. He said there are thousands of dissidents who will continue to meet and work for change despite government threats.
Mr. Sanchez said the Cuban government's assertion that the dissident movement was organized and supported by the United States is totally false. He said political opposition to the Castro government needs no outside influence.
In the recent trials of dissident leaders, government agents who had posed as dissidents and infiltrated their meetings were principal witnesses. But Elizardo Sanchez said the presence of some infiltrators was to be expected in a police state and that this will not undermine the confidence dissidents have in one another.
He said there are thousands of dissidents who are honorable, and only a few who turned out to be government agents. He said the use of such infiltrators is absurd, since dissident meetings are open to everyone and that the participants have nothing to hide.
As for his own safety, Mr. Sanchez said he expects to be arrested any day. He said he and others who speak out against the Castro government expect the secret police to knock at the door any time. He said he has been jailed before and that he expects to be jailed again as a consequence of his work monitoring the human rights situation in Cuba.
Mr. Sanchez said international support for the cause and the widespread condemnation of the recent repression has buoyed the spirits of the dissidents in Cuba.
The jailing of the dissidents and the summary execution of three accused hijackers two weeks ago drew strong condemnation from the European Union, several Latin American nations, Pope John Paul, and a number of world-renowned leftist intellectuals who had once supported the Castro government. Among them were Mexican author Carlos Fuentes and Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago.