Miami project spotlights Cuba dissidents' attackers
MIAMI (Reuters) - Four Cuban American lawyers and a Miami-based television station have launched a campaign to identify and publicly name Cuban state security agents and pro-government militants who attack dissidents on the island.
Called "Cuba, Repression ID," the project that began this week solicits public support from the Cuban exile community in the United States and also from people inside Cuba to identify, through photographs and film footage, individuals seen beating or harassing unarmed critics of Cuba's communist government.
In recent weeks, TV footage of Cuban state security agents and mobs of pro-government supporters heckling, harassing and forcibly breaking up dissident rallies and marches has drawn widespread international criticism of Cuba's rulers and renewed calls for them to free political prisoners on the island.
Cuba's government led by President Raul Castro, who took over from ailing elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008, rejects the criticism and calls dissidents U.S.-backed mercenaries.
The promoters of the "Repression ID" initiative backed by Spanish-language Channel 41 AmericaTeve say they want to name and shame identified persecutors of Cuban dissidents, both as a historical record, for possible future legal action, and as a way of trying to halt such violence and intimidation.
"Here are the images, the faces of repression," reads the advisory on AmericaTeve's website www.americateve.com, above a gallery of 28 photographs of men and women who were captured on film breaking up peaceful rallies by Cuba's Ladies in White dissidents. Members of the public are requested to e-mail or call in the identities of those shown.
"Who are they? What are their names? Where do they work? Where do they live?" the website asks.
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Since Wednesday, the TV station in its A Mano Limpia (A Clean Swipe of the Hand) current affairs program has also been broadcasting the faces, inviting viewers to put a name to them. The initiative's promoters, who request several sources for an identification, say several have been identified so far.
"We're hoping to provide a bit of protection and support to those who are suffering. We also want to make it known to those who abuse defenseless people in Cuba that they can't act with impunity," one of the Cuban American lawyers involved in the project, Wilfredo Allen, told Miami's Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald in comments published on Saturday.
Although Internet access, along with the media, is tightly controlled in Cuba, advances in telecommunications technology, and greater Cuban American travel to the island opened up by President Barack Obama, mean that much more information and images of what happens on the island are coming out.
"Beating defenseless people is equivalent to torture," Luis Fernandez Arena, another of the lawyers in the initiative, told El Nuevo Herald. "These abusers have to be identified, because in the future they could come to the United States and try to seek asylum as though nothing had happened."
Cuba's government portrays the Cuban exile community in Florida as a hub of U.S.-backed "counterrevolution" aimed at overthrowing its socialist system. Havana says Cuban exiles, with Washington's blessing and support, have launched numerous armed incursions and terrorist attacks against Cuba since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The "Repression ID" initiative may find it hard to identify full-time Cuban state security agents -- these mostly use assumed names while working, to protect their real identities.
But the promoters of the project hope that members of the Cuban security services who have defected to the United States over the years can help by identifying former colleagues.
The Obama administration has eased curbs on Cuban Americans traveling and sending money to Cuba and initiated talks with Havana on migration and mail service. But Obama has said the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba will stay until its rulers improve human rights and free political detainees.
(Editing by Will Dunham)