Monday, December 17, 2007

Cuba Lashes out at Veteran Dissident

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated Press Writer
Contra Costa Times

HAVANA—Cuban officials called a veteran human rights activist a "mercenary" for the United States on Monday, accusing him of exaggerating the number of political prisoners held on the island to make money and destabilize the communist system.

In a denunciation spanning 1 1/2 pages in the Communist Party daily Granma, Editor Lazaro Barredo wrote that Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, "knows perfectly who he is: A mercenary who carries out the orders of the empire and a fat cat who enjoys putting the safety of Cubans in danger." ...

Communist officials have singled out Sanchez in the past.

Barredo, a parliament member, co-wrote a 2003 book published by the official press that accused Sanchez of providing information about other activists to state security officials while publicly acting as a top government critic.

Sanchez at that time acknowledged meeting numerous times with security officials in an effort to influence treatment of political prisoners, but insisted he never collaborated with them.

On Monday, Barredo accused Sanchez, a 63-year-old former professor of Marxism, of receiving money from Washington to stir up opposition. "His source of financial wealth continues to be reports on prisoners which are based on a budget that the more prisoners he reports, the more money he receives," Barredo wrote.

Sanchez's organization has reported a steady decline in political prisoners held in Cuba. Like most other opposition activists, he denies taking U.S. government money.

The attack comes several weeks before the commission is expected to release its year-end report on political prisoners—documents used regularly by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The commission's report for the first half of the year counted 246 prisoners of conscience, down from nearly 500 a decade ago.

While the commission operates independently of the government and without its approval, it has been largely tolerated in recent years, though Sanchez has been imprisoned a total of 8 1/2 years for political crimes, including a six-year stretch for "enemy propaganda."

The criticism of Sanchez came a day after state television canceled a popular variety show hosted by Carlos Otero and branded him a traitor for seeking U.S. asylum.

During the Sunday night time slot of Otero's program, which featured music, humor and interviews with celebrities, a commentator read a statement saying it would never be seen again because Otero had engaged in "traitorous behavior" and "abandoned his viewers."

Otero, 49, traveled to Canada to produce year-end television programming as he did last year. But this year his wife and two children traveled with him, and the four crossed into U.S. territory and asked to stay.

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