US warns Cuba as it cracks down on eve of protest

·3-min read

Cuban security forces encircled the home of a leading dissident Sunday ahead of planned anti-government rallies, as Washington slammed Havana's "intimidation tactics" and called for a ban on the demonstrations to be lifted.

"We call on the Cuban government to respect Cubans' rights, by allowing them to peacefully assemble and use their voices without fear of government reprisal or violence," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The Cuban opposition has called for demonstrations Monday in Havana and six provinces as it demands the release of more than 650 prisoners jailed since history-making protests in July.

Blinken condemned Havana's "intimidation tactics" of blocking protests, firing opposition supporters and threatening them with detention.

Security forces on Sunday stepped up the pressure, surrounding the home of a leading dissident as he was preparing to set off on a solo protest march.

"I woke up this morning with my home under siege," 39-year-old playwright Yunior Garcia said in a video on Facebook.

AFP journalists witnessed numerous state agents in civilian clothing blocking Garcia's street or stationed on rooftops in his working-class neighborhood, where they unfurled huge Cuban flags.

Garcia, who has been portrayed in official media as "Enemy Number One," said state agents had told him earlier that "they will not allow me to protest," adding, "they even told me which prison they were going to take me to."

At least six other coordinators of Archipielago, a Facebook protest group created by Garcia, were earlier prevented from leaving their homes, while one dissident, Guillermo Farinas, was arrested, the group said.

Garcia had planned to set out Sunday to walk through central Havana, dressed in white and with a white rose in hand to signify protesters' non-violent intentions.

- 'To live in peace' -

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, wearing a red shirt and matching scarf, visited a Havana park Sunday where several dozen Communist students have conducted a pro-government sit-in since Friday.

"Cuba is going to live in peace," he told the cheering students, "and by living in peace we are going to improve ourselves."

He condemned "the campaigns to subvert the internal order, the media campaigns against Cuba."

Earlier, in an apparent bid to minimize international attention to the protests, Cuban authorities revoked the credentials of six journalists with Spanish news agency EFE.

That prompted sharp diplomatic protests from Madrid, where authorities summoned the Cuban charge d'affaires to "demand explanations."

The Madrid chapter of the group Reporters Without Borders condemned the Cuban move, saying Diaz-Canel's government "does not want witnesses to the emerging pro-change movements."

The credentials of two journalists were subsequently returned, EFE announced.

- Not backing down -

Despite the growing pressure, Archipielago, which has 30,000 followers in Cuba and abroad, has maintained its call for the Monday protests.

Havana accuses Washington of backing the rallies in an effort to destabilize the Cuban government.

On Friday, Diaz-Canel said government supporters were prepared to "confront any act of (outside) interference."

State television has accused Yunior Garcia of being a US-backed agent, even comparing him to Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, a dissident who became his country's president.

In Miami's Cuban community, some 200 people demonstrated Sunday in support of the Cuban protesters.

"All they want is peaceful change, nothing more," said 53-year-old Mariano Pujol, who was 10 when he arrived from Cuba. "They are demanding their right to be free, not to live under the boot of an oppressive regime."

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