HAVANA - Cuban authorities released opposition leader Martha Beatriz Roque and about 10 other dissidents early yesterday, but continued to detain at least 15 others who had attempted to attend a demonstration for the freedom of political prisoners, according to a human rights monitor in Havana.
A 59-year-old economist and former political prisoner who heads one of Cuba's largest opposition coalitions, Roque was headed for a demonstration at the French Embassy on Friday when her car was stopped by Cuban police and she was taken into custody, she said.
Two other dissident leaders, Rene Gomez and Felix Bonne, were also detained and remained in custody yesterday, said human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez of the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
During her 20-hour detention, Roque was taken to two police stations and questioned about her role in planning the demonstration. She said she was released at 5 a.m. after being examined by a doctor who found she was in poor health because of complications from diabetes.
"I was on a hunger strike. ... I was not going to return to prison because that's a slow death that awaits me there," a visibly weakened Roque said yesterday. "I prefer to die than be imprisoned."
Roque was the only woman arrested during the Cuban government's 2003 crackdown, which sent 75 dissidents to prison for up to 28 years on charges that they conspired to subvert Cuba's socialist system. She was released last year because of health, but has continued to draw attention to Cuba's political prisoners.
"The Cuban government solves everything by putting people in prison," Roque said. "I think it is not permissible for this to continue to happen. ... Something must be done to stop this situation."
In May, Roque, Gomez and Bonne organized a high-profile assembly to push for a democratic transition in Cuba. About 150 dissidents attended the landmark meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, as well as diplomats from the United States and Europe. Cuban authorities expelled several European lawmakers who traveled to Havana for the meeting.
Yesterday there was no information on Gomez and Bonne, who both spent time in prison in the late 1990s after writing and publicizing a pamphlet criticizing President Fidel Castro's government.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.