-- Just because President Bush has placed Cuba in the second troika of the evil countries, it does not mean that we cannot have an opinion about the war in Iraq. The Cuban regime has been, of course, against the war. It has publicized its opinion in the official media. It also has publicized with great delight the antiwar movement in other countries, especially the United States.
But Cubans -- at least the ones I know -- have been mostly for the war because it promised to get rid of a vicious leader: Saddam Hussein. I think Cubans hate dictatorships so fervently that they would pay just about any price to see a hated dictator go. Yet when the war began I observed a strange phenomenon: civil society and human rights movements in Cuba became the first collateral damage of the Iraqi war. Instead of helping our cause, the war hurt us. When international attention was focused on the military struggle with Iraq, the Cuban government took advantage by squashing the internal opposition that is engaged in peaceful struggle for human rights and democratization in Cuba.
The wave of searches, confiscations and especially detentions that began on March 18 is the most serious I have witnessed. Among those arrested and jailed are two dozen of Cuba's best independent journalists, who had been trying to portray real life here -- not the make-believe life that foreigners are shown or that the official media portray.
Also jailed were 50 activists of civil society representing various independent initiatives: a trade union, a network of libraries, a social research center, political parties and human rights groups. We fear that they will be charged under Law 88, which calls for a 20-year prison sentence for anyone who supports the embargo -- this even though most of us in the human rights community have expressed our opposition to the embargo. At the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, where I am a spokesman, we are busy trying to establish lists of those detained and their whereabouts. It is not easy; people are afraid to speak up because they do not know their own rights, and also simply because transportation is a nightmare, there are constant blackouts and the telephone is virtually useless.
The situation in Cuba is volatile. We do not know when the detentions will stop and how wide the catch will be. Recently we heard that Marcelo Cano, a physician and colleague who has worked with us since 1999 and who is active in setting up an independent medical association, was detained in Las Tunas.
We fear that the world is so absorbed by the war in Iraq that nobody will notice the at least 75 brave defenders of human rights detained in Cuba -- that reports of the U.S. pounding of Saddam Hussein's regime will drown out reports of Fidel Castro's pounding of the opposition in Havana.
The writer was arrested on March 25 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is one of at least 75 detainees who were convicted and received sentences averaging more than 19 years. This article was written before his arrest.