HAVANA – A Cuban dissident died Sunday following a run-in with authorities at a protest, said fellow government opponents who accused police of beating him and provoking his death.
Juan Wilfredo Soto died early in the morning in the central city of Santa Clara, fellow dissident Guillermo Farinas told The Associated Press in an interview by telephone from a funeral home where he said family members were gathered.
Farinas said Soto was detained and beaten Thursday during an anti-government protest. Soto was hospitalized and Farinas said doctors told him he died of pancreatitis, but he said he had not seen a death certificate yet.
Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and details of the protest and alleged beating could not be independently confirmed by the AP.
Pancreatitis has a number of possible causes, and Farinas acknowledged that Soto, 46, had a number of pre-existing health issues including diabetes, circulatory and heart problems, and gout.
But Farinas said he believes police are responsible: "This killing cannot go unpunished."
Little-known outside Santa Clara, Soto was among those who supported a 134-day hunger strike by Farinas last year to press for the release of political prisoners, a protest that the European Union recognized by awarding Farinas its Sakharov human rights prize.
The government frequently calls the island's small community of dissidents "mercenaries," common criminals financed from the United States with the purpose of undermining the revolution.
Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, also linked Soto's death to his detention.
"We believe that the blows he received were a catalyst," Sanchez said. "We do not think there was a political intent to kill him, but there was a struggle when he was yelling anti-government slogans."
He alleged that there has been increased physical intimidation and violence against dissidents in the past two months.