HAVANA TIMES, May 10 (IPS) — The Cuban government refuted reports by dissident groups that claimed that Juan Wilfredo Soto died as a result of a beating by police. The authorities stated that he died from “acute pancreatitis.”
Amnesty International, meanwhile, called for an immediate “independent and impartial investigation” into the death of the 46-year-old dissident, which reportedly occurred two days after a beating by police. Leading dissidents demanded an international forensic investigation.
The Cuban government said the forensic exam showed that Soto, who suffered from a number of health problems, died a “natural death” and established the preliminary cause as multiple organ failure caused by pancreatitis. “There were no internal or external signs of violence,” the press release from the government said.
Soto died in the early hours of the morning on May 8 in the central city of Santa Clara, and was buried that afternoon in the local cemetery.
At the funeral, dissident Guillermo Fariñas, awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2010, blamed Soto’s death on the authorities.
According to an on-line report by dissident leader Martha Beatriz Roque, several dozen dissidents attended the funeral in the city, shouting anti-government slogans. They were apparently not bothered by the police, who stayed close as the dissidents accompanied the body to the cemetery.
Counter-revolutionaries to blame
In its statement, the government blamed “counter-revolutionary elements” for “unscrupulously fabricating…the lie that this death was the consequence of a supposed beating” by the police, which was “rapidly amplified” by the media in Europe and the United States.
The communiqué said Soto was admitted to the “Arnaldo Milián Castro” Provincial University Hospital in Santa Clara on May 6 with intense abdominal pain, caused by acute pancreatitis.
He was also diagnosed with circulatory problems, hypertension, diabetes, gout and chronic hepatitis caused by fatty liver disease, the government reported.
In addition, Soto had a criminal record, for disruption of public order, theft and serious assault, it added.
The statement also said that Soto had recently linked up with “counter-revolutionary elements” who used him in their “provocative activities.” It added that the last such incident he was involved in took place on May 5 in a park in Santa Clara, when he was arrested for disrupting the public order, taken to a police station, and released three hours later “without incident.”
The opposition leaders say Soto – known as “the student” ever since he was first arrested at the age of 16 – belonged to a dissident group called United Anti-Totalitarian Forum, and that he died two days after he was beaten by the police in the Santa Clara park.
The government complained that just when the “widespread popular support” for the results of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba – held in April – is being “reaffirmed” and “the Cuban people are involved in implementing the approved guidelines, external and internal enemies are attempting to distort Cuba’s reality and undermine the international prestige of the Revolution and its moral strength.”
The Doctor Speaks
The press release was preceded by remarks by Dr. Rubén Aneiro, who attended to Soto in the hospital in Santa Clara. The “patient was suffering from acute pancreatitis that brought about a complex clinical process worsened by acute renal failure” that he was not able to survive, the doctor said.
Aneiro said Soto was suffering from diabetes, hypertension and dilated cardiomyopathy, and that he died despite the best efforts of specialists from various disciplines, in Santa Clara’s leading hospital.
Fariñas was treated in the same hospital during his four-month hunger strike last year.
The dissident’s hunger strike began on Feb. 24, 2010, the day after the death of Orlando Zapata, a prisoner who died after an 85-day hunger strike demanding that he be recognized by the government as a “prisoner of conscience.” During much of his protest, Fariñas was under intensive care in the hospital.
He called off his protest on Jul. 8, after the government announced the planned release of the 52 remaining political prisoners of an initial group of 75 who were found guilty in 2003 of treason for conspiring with the United States to destabilize the government.
The agreement to release the imprisoned dissidents was the result of talks that began in May 2010 between President Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana.
By late 2010, international pressure over human rights questions in Cuba had largely eased. In March, the last of the original 75 prisoners, Felix Navarro and José Daniel Ferrer, were freed.
A total of more than 100 prisoners were released, most of whom were flown to Spain with their families, after being offered asylum by that country. Referring to this in his report to the 6th party congress, Castro said the Catholic Church “contributed with its humanitarian labors to the completion of this action in harmony.”
Castro said the government has patiently borne “the groundless smear campaigns constantly orchestrated against us” in the area of human rights, but that “we will never deny our people the right to defend their Revolution.” Dissidents interpreted his words as a warning that they could be confronted by pro-government demonstrators in the streets.