Younger dissidents protest in Cuba
Generational shift brings more defiant tone to activism
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
At least one member of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights remained under detention Friday.
Oscar Elias Biscet, a 37-year-old physician, ``is still detained, and I heard one more person is also detained, said Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon. Also rounded up were members of the dissident Cuban Liberal Current.
Police had questioned and released 10 dissidents from both groups since Wednesday, activists in Havana reported.
The Lawton Foundation had called for a street demonstration Thursday to pay homage to Martin Luther King for his ``civic defiance -- a term increasingly used in Cuba to describe aggressive but peaceful opposition to the regime.
``There's been a sort of generational turnover, to some groups that are more antagonistic, more daring, said Geraldo Sanchez, brother of dissident leader Elizardo Sanchez, in a telephone interview from Havana.
While most of Cuba's better known dissidents are in their 50s and 60s, the dissidents rounded up by police this week were all described as being in their 30s and 40s, most of them professionals with little history of political activism.
``They haven't seen a lot of jails yet, so they are friskier, a European diplomat in Havana said.
The activists detained were identified as Biscet, Migdalia Rosado, Maria de los
Angeles Gonzalez, Miriam Cantillo, Ernesto Colas, Alberto Martinez, Pablo Nelson, Juan
Gonzalez, Roberto Peraza, Ofelia Nardo, Gustavo Toirac and his wife, Ana Maria Ortega.
Most Cuban dissidents concede that President Fidel Castro eased controls on some opposition groups a few months before Pope John Paul II visited Cuba last January. Castro released about 100 political prisoners afterward.
``The opposition now has a larger margin. They are not bothering us all the time, only when public acts are scheduled, said Hector Palacios Ruiz, moderate head of the dissident Democratic Solidarity Party.
Human rights activists reported that the 30 arrests of dissidents recorded in 1998 was about half the number for 1997, and the number of dissidents in jail fell from 482 in 1997 to 339 last month.
But now a small but growing number of younger dissidents has set out to test the
new, relaxed limits, meeting quietly in private homes to discuss the tactics of peaceful
resistance and daring to stage public protests.
Police and plainclothes security agents briefly detained eight dissidents after they staged a highly unusual protest in November outside a Havana courtroom where an opposition journalist was to go on trial.
And foreign journalists saw police pounce on and carry away a lone man who was shouting human rights and anti-government slogans in downtown Havana on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Declaration.
Some dissidents have called for public protests during the Ibero-American summit,
expected to bring more than 20 heads of government and thousands of journalists to Cuba
around October or November.
Others have endorsed a proposal for a campaign of ``civil defiance, developed largely in Miami by Brothers to the Rescue leader Jose Basulto, to peacefully challenge the government's limits on dissent.
``These younger people agree there's more space now for some [human rights] groups, but they say they got into this to improve things for all, not just themselves, said an official who monitors human rights in Cuba.
Such thinking appears to concern some of the older dissidents who, because of age or jail experience, have tempered some of their stands.
``We have more of a margin, but they want to alter that margin, and could lose everything, Geraldo Sanchez said. ``They take a different approach, which of course we completely respect.
Miami Herald, January 16, 1999