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Swiss condemn Cuba crackdown

The Cuban government's crackdown on dissidents and swift justice have led to protests abroad


Switzerland has condemned a wave of repression in Cuba, including the recent execution of three Cubans.

On Tuesday the Swiss ambassador in Havana transmitted an official protest to Fidel Castro's government.

Livio Zanolari, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, told swissinfo that ambassador Jean-Claude Richard had conveyed the Swiss government's concerns to the Cuban foreign minister.

The message condemned the use of the death penalty, which had not been enforced in Cuba for the past three years.

Last Friday three members of a gang that hijacked a ferry and tried to sail it to the United States were executed by firing squad. They were tried, convicted and shot within four days.

"These executions are a step backwards from the self-imposed moratorium that the Cuban government had stuck to since April 2000," said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban commission for human rights and national reconciliation, an outlawed non-governmental organisation in Cuba.

Swift justice

The Swiss protest also addressed the recent targeting of Cuban dissidents by the Castro government.

Cuban courts have sentenced 75 opposition members, including economist Marta Beatriz Roque, to lengthy prison terms.

Roque, one of the country's leading dissidents, was jailed for 20 years.

Hector Palacios, one of the heads of the Varela project aimed at democratising Cuba, received a 25-year sentence.

"Christian Hauswirth, the head of the foreign ministry's Americas sector, summoned the Cuban ambassador to Bern ten days ago and told her that the Swiss authorities were protesting against her government's actions, " said Zanolari.

UN resolution

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva narrowly passed a resolution calling on Cuba to accept a visit by a rights investigator, but rejected an amendment that would have criticized the country for a
series of violations.

The 53-nation body voted by 24 votes to 20 in favor of the resolution, presented by Peru and Uruguay. There were nine abstentions.

The motion was supported by Switzerland. Cuba has refused to entertain the idea, insisting that the UN should be focusing on the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay where prisoners captured during the war in Afghanistan are being held.

On Wednesday Costa Rica, backed by the United States and Britain, had urged the Commission to demand that Cuba release the jailed dissidents.

Development project

So far, there are no indications that a pilot project set up by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Cuba will be affected by the diplomatic spat.

"The programme has three main axes," said Ursula Läubli, who oversees the project. "Humanitarian aid, agricultural development and reinforcing local administration."

The future of the project is due to be re-evaluated next month to determine whether Switzerland will maintain its development programme with the island state.

The foreign ministry said it was not considering scrapping the project because of political reasons.

swissinfo, Fréderic Burnand in Geneva (translation: Scott Capper)

In brief

The Cuban government launched a crackdown against opposition members in recents weeks, with arrests shortly followed by trials and heavy prison sentences.

Three members of a gang that tried to hijack a ferry where also executed just four days after they were arrested.

Until then, the Cuban government had stuck to self-imposed moratorium on capital punishment for three years.

The Swiss government has protested against the crackdown on opposition members and the executions.

Switzerland is expected to support a resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission calling for a special envoy to be sent to the island.

A pilot project run by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is not expected to be affected by the offical protest.

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