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US Demands Cuba Provide Adequate Care for Imprisoned Dissidents - 2003-06-03


The United States Monday demanded that Cuba provide adequate health care for a recently imprisoned dissident, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, said to be suffering from a life-threatening liver ailment and other medical problems. The State Department says others among the 75 opponents of the Fidel Castro government sentenced to prison terms in April are also ill.

The State Department is expressing deep concern over the Cuban government's treatment of Mr. Chepe, a 62-year-old independent journalist sentenced to 20-years in prison in April on what are described here as "trumped-up" treason charges.

In a written statement, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Mr. Chepe is suffering from liver disease, intestinal bleeding and other symptoms of a serious medical problem, and that his family fears he may die if he is not transferred from a prison hospital to a better facility in Havana.

The spokesman said the United States "demands" that Mr. Chepe be given adequate health care and sent to a medical facility where he can receive a level of care commensurate with his illness.

Mr. Reeker said U.S. officials are also concerned by reports that others among those sentenced in the recent crackdown against dissidents -- Raul Rivero, Marta Beatriz Roque, Jorge Olivera and Roberto de Miranda -- are also ill and should get immediate access to adequate care. He said many of the 75 prisoners are being held in "inhumane" conditions with poor sanitation, contaminated water and nearly inedible food.

Mr. Reeker said Cuba appears "to be going out of its way" to treat the prisoners inhumanely and that the Castro government should end the practice immediately and, at a minimum, allow appropriate humanitarian organizations to monitor their care.

The Bush administration was bitterly critical of the Cuban roundup and trials of the dissidents, many of whom were accused of subversion for associating with the chief U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason. In mid-May, the United States expelled 14 diplomats from the Cuban U.N. mission and its diplomatic "interests section" in Washington in a move widely seen as a response to the crackdown.

The administration has been reported considering other sanctions against the Castro government as part of a policy review that officials here say is still under way.