Did Cuba Skew the Cause of a Dissident’s Death?

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Getty images/Adalberto Roque

Cuban oppositionist Guillermo Farinas gives a press conference, on May 10, 2011, in Havana. Farinas and other dissidents referred to the death of dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto in the city of Santa Clara last Sunday.

After a Cuban dissident, Juan Wilfredo Soto, 46, was arrested at a Santa Clara protest, he was allegedly beaten to death. Soto was among those who supported a 134-day hunger strike by fellow dissident Guillermo Farinas to press for the release of political prisoners.

But a forensic doctor and Soto’s sister have denied the allegations and say he showed no signs of bruising, according to a statement in Granma, Cuba’s official communist party’s paper. Soto’s sister, Rosa Soto Garcia, was quoted as saying, “It’s a big lie that he was beaten. He did not have a single mark on him.”

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Soto is said to have died of “natural causes.” According to Granma, Soto had serious health problems; Nestor Vega Alonso attributes his death to generalized edema and high blood pressure, a dilated heart, gout and diabetes mellitus. Ricardo Rodríguez Jorge, a forensic doctor, said the autopsy revealed no signs of external or internal violence. “In the face of this irrefutable evidence” reads Granma’s statement, “one has to ask how it is possible to continue lying. Is not the experience of more than 50 years of a Revolution without a single case of torture, disappearance or murder sufficient?”

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Anyone in Cuba will tell you that you’re better off keeping your political views low-key, if they’re contra-revolutionary of course. Under Cuban law, you could be arrested, tried and jailed for speaking and writing against the government under charges. Famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, author of Generation Y blog, writes that “the police batons are thirsty for backs in these parts. The growing violence of those in uniform is something that is whispered about and many describe it detail without daring to publicly denounce it.”

Since Cuba only has one paper, which is run by the government, it’s hard to know who we should trust. Cuba says it “despises lies” and blames the corporate media.  But dissident Farinas told the AFP, “If we do not do something, so that the government changes its stand toward peaceful protesters, we are going to be reporting even more deaths.”

Perhaps Soto did die of natural causes, but with Cuba’s media laws it’s hard to know the truth.

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