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U.S. expresses outrage over assault on Cuban blogger

MIAMI — The U.S. State Department has told Cuba it deplores last week's assault on blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of the toughest of several expressions of support for the Havana writer.

Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo said they were beaten Friday by presumed state security agents to keep them away from a "march against violence." Blogger Claudia Cadelo and another woman were detained in the incident, but without violence.

"The U.S. government strongly deplores the assault," said a State Department statement. "We have expressed to the Cuban government our deep concern … and we are following up with inquiries to (the three bloggers) … regarding their personal well-being and access to medical care."

Sanchez's husband, Reynaldo Escobar, told El Nuevo Herald she's walking with a crutch and taking medicines for a backache, the result of being thrown head-first into a car and punched in the back by the three men in plainclothes who detained her for 20 minutes. There was no word on Pardo's health.

Cuba's government-controlled mass media has made no mention of the incident, which received wide coverage abroad because of Sanchez's fame as the prize-winning author of the blog Generacion Y, which regularly criticizes the ruling system.

"The Cuban authorities are using brute force to try to silence Yoani Sanchez's only weapon: her ideas," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the New York-based Americas section of Human Rights Watch. "The international community must send a firm message to Raul Castro that such attacks on independent voices are completely unacceptable."

The Human Rights Foundation, an independent group also based in New York, decried the "blatant attempt by the Cuban government to silence independent thought and speech."

Seven U.S. senators from both parties, meanwhile, issued statements Tuesday condemning the incident, with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., calling it "yet another indication that despite all the hoped-for change on the island, the regime continues to rule with an iron fist that crushes any seed of free speech or human rights."

"This is yet another outrageous and unacceptable example that appeasing the Castro regime will not work," said Sen. George Lemieux, R-Fla. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called Sanchez "a symbol of courage."

Also condemning the incident were Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Ted Kaufman, D-Del.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Earlier, during an interview with Radio Marti, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., branded the violence against Sanchez and Pardo as "repugnant" and said it was "Cuba's answer" to gestures by President Barack Obama to establish a new relationship.

U.S. expresses outrage over assault on Cuban blogger 11/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 9:44pm]
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