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Cuba intensifies repression: 'Ladies in White' leader

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Cuba's leaders have intensified beatings and intimidation of political dissidents despite recent reforms, the leader of the award-winning campaign group "Ladies in White" said on Tuesday.

Berta Soler, leader of the association of female relatives of political prisoners, told AFP in Madrid that "repression has worsened" since 2010, after Raul Castro took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

"The police drag us around, beat us, pull our hair, scratch us and humiliate us," she said, referring to members of the Ladies in White.

"They simulate executions with a gun to the head and leave us dumped at dawn on the road or the beach, tied up with belts," she said, adding that 1,280 members of her association were detained in 2012.

"We have men whom they put in prison for five or six months without trial, just for expressing themselves," she said.

"They slash them with machetes and throw excrement at their houses."

Soler, 49, was able to travel to Spain under a recent reform that lets members of the Cuban opposition leave the island for the first time without an exit visa.

The Ladies in White won the Sakharov Prize, a major European award for political dissidents, in 2005, but they were not allowed to leave Cuba to collect it.

Soler planned to go to Poland to meet the historic anti-communist leader Lech Walesa and after that may go to Strasbourg to receive the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament.

First of all in Madrid she was to meet members of the governing Popular Party.

A member of the party, Angel Carromero, was jailed in Cuba last year accused of causing the death of the Cuban opposition figure Oswaldo Paya in a car crash. Carromero was transferred in December to Spain, where he was granted conditional release.

Soler said she believed the Cuban government was involved "in one way or another" in Paya's death and in that of another founding member of Ladies in White, Laura Pollan, in 2011.

Other dissident figures such as the blogger Yoani Sanchez and Paya's daughter Rosa Maria have made visits to Europe since the law allowing them to travel abroad took effect in January.

But Soler said it was a mere "cosmetic reform" prompted by international pressure.

"The Cuban people are sunk in misery. The money coming from foreign investors is not going into the hands of the people, but to the government," she said.

"There is no change in Cuba."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130312/cuba-intensifies-repression-ladies-white-leader