got on my knees and said, `Down With Fidel!' '' the
43-year-old Fariñas claimed in a telephone interview
from Cuba. ``They started kicking and beating me,
bruising my back, arm and head. They stopped when
they saw I would not lose my dignity and say things
I didn't feel.''
Fariñas was a victim of an old-time Cuban government
tactic that's back with a vengeance: ``acts of
repudiation'' - mob attacks by Castro supporters
against critics of the government, first used in
1980 during the Mariel boatlift, which brought more
than 125,000 refugees to South Florida. Dissidents
on the island say they have logged more than 50 such
attacks in the past six months alone.
While the government paints them as spontaneous acts
by committed socialists, Cuba-watchers say they are
part of a concerted campaign by the Cuban government
to quell opposition. Dissidents also have reported
evictions, detentions, random acts of violence, 40
arrests and some confrontations with semi-official
groups of tough men known as Rapid Response
flood of incidents against dissidents underscores a
tenuous time in Cuba, as the government openly
struggles to combat corruption and grapples with a
fragile economy and a rising number of migrants
headed to sea. Experts say it may also be a response
to an increase in dissidence. A December report by
the International Republican Institute recorded
1,805 acts of civil disobedience in 2004, up from
959 in 2002.
are seeing levels of oppression we haven't seen in
20 years in Cuba,'' said Caleb McCarry, the U.S.
State Department's Cuba transition coordinator.
``It's a clear indication that the dictatorship
fears the Cuban people.''
Ramón Colas, a former dissident who now lives in
Mississippi, said five independent libraries - where
Cubans can find books not approved by the government
- have been hit with acts of repudiation in two
October, the Roman Catholic Church denounced an
attack against one of its deacons, who was beaten up
on his way to church. And Juan Carlos González, a
dissident who is blind, said in September that he
had faced 15 acts of repudiation in a single month.
Dissidents said that although no one has been
killed, several people have been injured and some
have suffered broken bones.
``These are organized by the government. . . . You
can find the police cars three or four blocks
away,'' said dissident Carlos Rios, who claimed he
was beaten by a mob Aug. 27. ``They try to provoke
you into saying something like `Down with Fidel!' so
then they can lock you up in jail for six months.''
wave of attacks against government opponents began
July 14, when dissidents gathered to commemorate a
1994 disaster in which 37 would-be migrants trying
to flee Cuba aboard a tugboat died in a struggle
with other Cuban government boats. Hundreds of
counterprotesters disrupted the July event, and at
least a dozen dissidents were arrested.
weeks later, Castro mentioned the incident during
one of his speeches.
``The people, angrier than before over such
bold-faced acts of treason, intervened with
patriotic fervor and didn't allow a single mercenary
to move,'' he said. ``And this is what will happen
whenever traitors and mercenaries go a millimeter
beyond the point that our revolutionary people . . .
are willing to accept.''
rights activists say the speech gave a green
light to members of the Cuban Communist Party and
State Security to harass dissidents more than ever.
group of dissidents was going to meet, but we're not
going to allow that on Mondays, not Tuesdays or
Wednesdays,'' José Enrique Oliva, a Communist Party
delegate, told the EFE news service in October while
disrupting a meeting of the Progressive Rainbow
be sure, the increase in harassment pales in
comparison to the sweep against government opponents
that occurred in 2003. That year, Castro jailed 75
political activists and sentenced them to decades in
prison. Fourteen were later released for medical
Perhaps in response to the increased activity, the
government is now engaging in a publicity campaign
to smear its opponents. Government TV programs often
center around allegations that the dissidents are
mercenaries on the payroll of U.S. exile groups and
U.S. diplomats in Havana.
Cuban Interests Section in Washington and the
international media representatives at the Foreign
Ministry in Havana did not return calls seeking
``There is no country in the world where the
empire's mercenaries enjoy the privileges they do in
Cuba,'' Castro said in the July speech.
``The much publicized dissidence or alleged
opposition in Cuba does not exist except in the
overheated imagination of the Cuban-American mob and
White House and State Department bureaucrats,''
the tactic may be backfiring.
week after a Palm Sunday repudiation act against
about 30 members of Ladies in White - wives,
daughters and mothers of jailed political prisoners
- the number of women participating in the group's
weekly march more than doubled.
``They thought that would silence the opposition,''
group member Miriam Leiva said by phone from Havana.
``They thought nobody would find out, so we started
hitting the streets, and we haven't stopped.''
rights activists in Cuba say that although the
acts of repudiation are rising in number and
intensity, they also carry a bit of good news:
Neighbors who were once a staple of such attacks now
``These people were with the [Communist] party,''
said Ernesto Roque, an independent journalist, who
said he was pushed and shoved by a group of
government supporters recently. ``These are old,
retired communists. Finding a young person to
participate is difficult.
``It's a beautiful message: At least the youth, I'm
convinced, are not interested in this.''
Fariñas, the psychologist turned independent
journalist, said the dissidents nevertheless live
have been jailed three times and beaten,'' Fariñas
said. ``Sure, I'm afraid.''
COMING MONDAY: Many newly arrived dissidents,
virtually all of them children when Fidel Castro
rose to power, wonder how best to promote freedom in
their homeland from the outside.