By existing Cuban constitutional law, the petition required 10,000 signatures to become a legislative initiative. Mr. Paya was constantly under surveillance and harassed by Mr. Castro's security apparatus and many Cubans were too afraid to sign their names on such an incriminating document. Despite this, he was able to collect 11,020 signatures. Mr. Castro was only able to block Mr. Paya's efforts with a hastily mounted counterpetition, acquiring signatures through pressure.
We need to realize Mr. Castro's death will likely mean for Cuba what the fall of the Berlin Wall meant for the Soviet Union. After 44 years of totalitarianism, it seems doubtful the Cuban people will stand for anything less than a free society - but how free remains to be seen. Furthermore, America needs to make sure Cuba does not become a haven for "dark-side"criminal capitalism, as Russia has. ***
The treatment of Martha Beatriz Roque, 57, the only woman among 75 dissidents convicted in a March crackdown, exemplifies what is happening. She was taken from her cell to a military hospital on July 24 suffering from high blood pressure and chest pains. Her sentence is 20 years for ''conspiring'' with a foreign power. Her crime? Speaking the truth about Cuba's moribund economy and totalitarian government.
Held at the notorious Manto Negro prison, Ms. Roque -- coauthor of the dissident manifesto, The Homeland Belongs to Us All -- has been kept in solitary confinement with no access to sunlight, according to Havana independent journalist Angel Polanco. She refused to drink filthy prison water and subsisted on water provided by her niece in monthly visits. Rats and cockroaches infested her cell, and her body was covered by an allergic rash.
Such prison conditions aren't unusual. Contaminated water and filthy cells are standard issue. Prisoners are moved hundreds of miles from home, turning family visits into odysseys. Visits then are permitted at the whim of prison authorities.
o Dr. Oscar Eliás Biscet hasn't been allowed to see his wife, Elsa Morejón, since April. He's jailed in a ''punishment'' cell for refusing to wear prison garb and is denied care packages and visits. His mosquito bites have become infected due to the intense heat, and he suffers a chronic infection in his mouth from lack of treatment.
o Independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 62, who has severe liver disease, has deteriorated dramatically since being imprisoned and reportedly is close to death.
o Little is known of the condition of human-rights activist Leonardo Miguel Bruzón, who suffers numerous ailments due to prison treatment and repeated hunger strikes. After 17 months in detention, he has yet to be charged with a crime.
Amnesty International rightly reaffirmed last weekthat the 75 dissidents are prisoners of conscience. It also noted that, ``Neither the U.S. embargo nor any other aspect of U.S. foreign or economic policy can be used to justify grave violations of fundamental rights by the Cuban authorities.''
International condemnation can make a difference. Countries that support human rights -- especially Caribbean and Latin American countries -- must call for the regime to end this cruel and inhumane treatment of people who never would be imprisoned in a free country. [End]
Castro's Cuba, one of the noblest causes?***