Eye witness

March 12, 1999

When the Baltimore Orioles and Cuba's national baseball team meet in Havana this month, it will be the first fruit of the "baseball diplomacy" aimed at improving relations between the two countries after years of hostility.

While the fixture angered the exiles in Florida and was seen as a distraction from Cuba's commitment to one-party rule, Todd Landman, lecturer in politics at the University of Essex, said: "Sending a baseball team to Cuba is a symbolic victory, a sign that there is a crack in the rather tense relationship since the revolution."

Political pluralism does not exist in Cuba, he said. "There is very little tolerance for dissenting views. Criticism of the regime is criticising not only the ideology but also the personality of Fidel.

"Most academics and people with independence of thought and willing to voice those opinions usually chose exit rather than opposition."

While attention focused on the "baseball diplomacy", however, the four imprisoned leaders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group, whose trial on sedition charges took place last week, were awaiting jail sentences of up to six years. Three have academic connections.

Felix Antonio Bonne Carcasses was an engineering professor at Jose Antonio Echeverr!a Polytechnic and a professor of physics at the University of Havana. A founder of the Cuban Civic Current, an organisation largely composed of university professors that sent a letter to Castro calling for greater democracy, he was expelled from the university in 1993 because of his dissident activities.

Of the others, Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello was an economics professor and Rene Gomez Manzano a specialist in international law. Both were at Havana.

Joseph Saunders, of Human Rights Watch in New York, said: "Dissident leaders are in jail because they dared to state their beliefs openly and repeatedly offered pointed critiques of the government's political and economic policies. It should come as no surprise that Carcasses was forced out of his job as a professor for the very same reason that he is in jail: public, non-violent expression of views at odds with the prevailing political orthodoxy."

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