HAVANA – U.S. officials and an island human rights advocate have condemned the alleged beating and detention of a Cuban dissident days after he testified by video conference before a Senate subcommittee about harassment of the opposition in his homeland.
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, denounced the apparent beating of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez on Saturday, and accused Cuba of targeting him in retaliation for his testimony two days earlier.
"I want to be crystal clear that I strongly condemn any efforts to intimidate Mr. Perez or any other Cuban citizen into silence," Kerry said. "I echo the calls of my Senate colleagues, demanding an end to repression in Cuba and urging international observers to conduct an investigation into his detention."
Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The government considers all dissidents to be mercenaries and common criminals paid by Washington to stir up trouble, and claims their grievances are amplified by exiles and Cuban-American politicians in a coordinated media smear campaign.
Garcia Perez, known by his nickname "Antunez," spent 17 years in jail for his activities and has used hunger strikes to protest the treatment of political prisoners in Cuba. His wife, Yris Tamara Perez, says he was beaten and arrested by police in the central Cuban town of Placetas on Saturday afternoon. A half an hour later, when she and several friends set out to find him at the police station, she too was arrested and held overnight.
At the holding cell, there was more trouble, including the use of tear gas, she said in a statement sent by a Cuban exile group. As of Tuesday, Garcia Perez had not been released and his wife was unable to talk to him by phone.
"I am very worried about what could happen to my husband," she said, adding that he had heart trouble and other ailments.
Garcia Perez had testified before the Senate subcommittee via a video hookup from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy. He told the panel that Cuban authorities have turned increasingly to short-term detentions and other harassment of dissidents since releasing dozens of political prisoners in 2010.
Elizardo Sanchez, a human rights advocate on the island and de facto spokesperson for Cuba's small opposition, confirmed the arrest and supposed beating, adding that he felt it was a direct result of Garcia Perez's Senate testimony. Sanchez said he had also received word that a man who gained renown when he was dragged away while shouting anti-government slogans at a Mass celebrated in Santiago by Pope Benedict XVI in March had also been arrested. The man Andres Carrion Alvarez, has been in and out of detention since the incident.
Sanchez said he was "worried" about both cases. "Each of these arrests are arbitrary, and that is unacceptable."
The U.S. State Department also voiced concern about Garcia Perez's fate and called for his immediate release.
"These actions once again highlight the repressive nature of the Cuban government, particularly with regard to Cuban citizens peacefully expressing opposing views," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
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