HAVANA – Cuba on Monday strongly denied claims that police beat an ailing dissident who died two days later, with authorities saying the opposition version of events was a deliberate attempt to malign the country.
In an official dispatch read on state television, the government said dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto died of natural causes due to multiple organ failure and pancreatitis.
"There were no signs of violence either internal or external," it said.
The statement charged that "counterrevolutionary elements" had "in an unscrupulous way fabricated the lie that" Soto's death was a result of a beating at the hands of police.
It accused "imperialist media disinformation" — a reference to the foreign press that reported news of Soto's death early Sunday — of "quickly amplifying" the lie.
Hours earlier, a pro-government website, Cubadebate, cited pro-government journalist Norelys Morales' reporting of comments by a doctor who attended to Soto in the central city of Santa Clara.
The site noted the 46-year-old Soto suffered from ailments including diabetes, hypertension and heart problems.
Morales reported in her blog that Dr. Ruben Aneiro Medina told her that Soto did not show signs of having been beaten and that kidney failure was a factor in his death.
Cuban dissidents have acknowledged Soto's health issues but accuse police of beating him in a park Thursday and provoking his death.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm either version of the incident in Santa Clara, which is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the capital.
There have even been conflicting stories from different members of the dissident community. Some have said Soto was attending a protest in the park and shouted anti-government slogans.
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an anti-government activist, said an officer asked Soto for his identification and the two exchanged words. The policeman handcuffed Soto and struck him multiple times with his baton, and other agents came over and joined in, she said.
After police detained Soto, they later took him to a hospital where he was treated and released, Roque said in an e-mail. But Soto returned to the hospital in the middle of the night, his condition worsened and he died Sunday shortly after midnight, she said. He was buried later in the day.
Roque and other dissidents said they saw a clear link between police treatment of protesters and Soto's death.
While pro-government crowds often gather to harass protesting dissidents, physical violence is not common.
Cuba's government has called the small dissident community "mercenaries" financed by the United States to undermine the revolution.
Little known outside Santa Clara, Soto was among those who supported a 134-day hunger strike by anti-government activist Guillermo Farinas last year to press for the release of political prisoners. The European Union recognized the protest by awarding Farinas its Sakharov human rights prize.