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A day after Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez published an online interview with President Barack Obama, her husband and fellow blogger Reinaldo Escobar was accosted by a pro-government mob Friday evening in the streets of Havana, marking an escalation of the Cuban government's response to Sanchez and the island's small blogger movement.
Escobar, 62, had announced last week that he wanted to hold a "verbal duel" with the alleged Cuban state security agents who briefly detained and roughed up his wife on Nov. 6, an incident that drew condemnation from the Obama administration and international human rights groups. At 5 p.m. Friday, Escobar and a few supporters stood at the corner of a major Havana intersection as television cameras rolled and curious onlookers gathered around. Sanchez was not present.
Within second of Escobar saying that he wanted to engage in a "dialogue," busloads of pro-government students and men that appeared to be state security forces surrounded him and began shouting pro-Castro slogans. A marching band veered away from a nearby cultural performance and joined in, their beating drums urging the crowd on. It looked as if Escobar would be lynched.
"Long live Fidel" and "Go Away Worms," the crowd of 150 or so chanted at Escobar, using a traditional epithet for those who oppose the Castro government. When Escobar tried to walk away, a chaotic scene ensued, as the shouting mob chased him down the street, screaming insults and pro-government slogans in his face. The scene repeated itself several times as the mob prevented Escobar from leaving, at one point pinning he and his supporters against a metal fence. An NBC cameraman filming the incident was attacked at one point, as several men tried to grab his camera before plainclothes officers intervened to escort the man away to safety.
The whole incident lasted 15 minutes or so and appeared to be captured by several foreign television crews. Bloggers supportive of Escobar reported that he was briefly detained by police and dropped off at a location far from his home, but unhurt.
Such incidents in Cuba are known as "acts of repudiation" and have been used to target government opponents in the past. The Castro government considers Sanchez and other bloggers critical of Cuba's one-party state to be "mercenaries" at the service of the U.S. government and other foreign enemies abroad.