Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Police beating led to activist’s death: Cuban opposition

Reuters and AFP, HAVANA

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

About 80 people attended Soto’s funeral in the city of Santa Clara, including a number of prominent dissidents, witnesses at the scene said. No incidents were reported.

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

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 on Sunday morning.

The government has not commented on Soto’s death.

Various bloggers close to the government quoted 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, 275km 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.

“There is not the slightest doubt that there was a cause and effect, and that Soto’s death was related to the beating he was given,” dissident Guillermo Farinas said by telephone earlier from a local funeral parlor.

Farinas said Soto had become the first mortal victim of Cuban President Raul Castro’s policy stated last month that dissidents were not welcome in Cuba’s streets.

“If we do not do something, so that the government changes its stand toward peaceful protestors, we are going to be reporting even more deaths,” he said.

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 Feb. 23 last year, after an 85-day hunger strike over demands for better prison conditions.

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

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

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