Cuban dissident buried amid controversy

Last Updated: Monday, May 9, 2011 - 09:00

Havana: Cuban dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto was buried on Sunday amid opposition charges a police beating last week led to his death.

Some 80 people attended Soto`s funeral in the city of Santa Clara, including a number of prominent dissidents, according to witnesses at the scene. No incidents were reported.

Soto, 46, was beaten and detained by police during a protest on Thursday in Santa Clara, according to prominent opposition blogger Yoani Sanches and other dissidents.

Soto, who suffered from diabetes, hypertension and other health problems, was quickly released but then checked into the Arnaldo Milian Hospital where he died early Sunday morning.

The government has not commented on Soto`s death.

Various bloggers close to the government quoted Dr Ruben Aneiro Medina of the hospital as saying Soto died of pancreatitis and kidney failure and there were no signs of physical violence.

Soto was a member of a little-known opposition group in Santa Clara, 275 kilometres (171 miles) east of Havana, and had served 12 years behind bars as a political prisoner.

Elizardo Sanchez of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights said the police beating caused his death.

"There is no question that there is a relationship between cause and effect, between the beating he received on Thursday at the hands of the police and his death," Sanchez said.

Sanchez demanded an open investigation of the case and said police were becoming increasingly brutal in their handling of dissent.

Soto`s death follows that of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo last year, which touched off an international firestorm of criticism over Cuba`s repression of dissent.

Zapata, who was 42 and serving a 36-year sentence for various convictions, died on February 23, 2010, after an 85-day hunger strike over demands for better prison conditions.

Three months later, President Raul Castro met with Cuban Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega and agreed to release 52 political prisoners in an accord made public in July.

Since then more than a hundred prisoners have been let go, most into exile in Spain.

Havana says that dissidents are mercenaries organised and funded by its longtime foe, the United States.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, May 9, 2011 - 09:00

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