Cuba releases video bent on proving prominent dissident is state agent
HAVANA, Sept 12 (AFP) - Cuba's communist government has taken aim at leading dissident Elizardo Sanchez, releasing a video to the international media here purporting to prove he is really a state agent.
Sanchez, who leads the Cuban Committee for National Reconciliation, charged he was being targeted by a smear campaign Thursday but says he has met on many occasions with officials of the Americas' only communist one-party regime.
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A video shown Thursday to foreign reporters who regularly interview Sanchez on Cuba's dissident groups showed a private ceremony at which Sanchez was given a Distinguished Service award October 28, 1998, on what the government says was completion of his first of six years' service as State Security "Agent Juana."
The tape shows Colonel Aristides Gomes decorating Sanchez for fulfilling order 654 of the chief of the Counter-revolution Confrontation Division, the government maintains.
"Thank you, comrades," Sanchez is heard to say to Interior Ministry officials before entoning the national anthem and capping the ceremony with a toast.
On August 18, journalists Arleen Rodriguez and Lazaro Barredo, who are close to the regime, unveiled a book charging Sanchez was a double agent with a taste for extravagant living.
Barredo has told reporters Sanchez initiated contacts with the government, and that Cuba's counterintelligence agency initially resisted working with him.
Sanchez, 58, has denied the allegations, which the government appears to have made a major point of underscoring. Though after 35 years as an opponent of the regime, he says, he has met "dozens of times" with government officials.
"We are witnessing another chapter in the dirty war of the totalitarian regime against all of us. It has not surprised me one bit," Sanchez told foreign reporters in his Havana home.
"This is part of a kind of soap opera, and there surely will be more to come," he said. "They are going to want to try to discredit every single one of us."
"There are two alternatives: you can believe the government or you can believe me. The Cuban government is very strong; it has press centers, photos, kilometers of file footage, thousands of pictures. I don't have any of that," he said.
When the book came out in August, many dissidents rushed to defend Sanchez. After the video was released, some dissidents remained supportive, while others appeared a bit less so.
"To me, it is incredibly low, because here you have no right to defend yourself. Elizardo has no right to go on Cuban television and defend himself freely," said Blanca Reyes, wife of dissident journalist Raul Rivero, who has been sent to jail for a 20-year term.
"I suggest that the government write another book, but about the (summary) trials of the convicted dissidents, including everything, and let the people decide for themselves," she added.
The government in April launched its toughest crackdown against dissidents in years, netting 75 opponents who were given summary trials, convicted and sentenced to lenghty jail terms. The move brought an outcry from the European Union and United States.
Dissident economist Vladimiro Roca said "Elizardo is not the country's problem. The country's problem is the government and there alays will be dissidents until things are settled.
"If dissidents are working for state security ... I'm not worried about that. I'm ready to work with whomever it may be, even with a colonel, if we are going to search for a peaceful solution to the situation, and for the 75 who have been thrown in jail.
"The government is the one that needs to be questioned," Roca said.
Every person is responsible for his own behavoir," said Gisela Delgado, who runs independent libraries and is the wife of jailed dissident Hector Palacios.
"We shouldn't wear ourselves out over some issue or some person, but rather focus on fighting for Cuba to be free and democratic, and for them to free the prisoners."