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An opponent of the Cuban government died Sunday morning after having been arrested on Thursday and detained for three days, according to Andrea Rodriguez of Associated Press. Juan Wilfredo Soto, age 46, died at a hospital in the central city of Santa Clara; his cause of death was suspected to be the result of the beatings he received while in custody.
Guillermo Farinas, a fellow dissident, told AP that Mr. Soto was detained during an anti-government protest on Thursday and was hospitalized upon his release from custody. The attending doctors told Farinas that he died of pancreatitis, but Farinas explained that he had not seen the death certificate yet.
Mr Soto was among the supporters of a 134-day hunger strike alongside Farinas last year in a call for the release of political prisoners. Despite the fact that Soto’s cause of death is yet to be confirmed, fellow activists are blaming the police for his death.
Elizardo Sanchez, another prominent dissident and leader of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the BBC that he was convinced the death was related to Soto’s detention. “We believe that the blows he received were a catalyst,” he said, adding: “We do not think there was a political intent to kill him, but there was a struggle when he was yelling anti-government slogans.”
Witnesses told CNN that Mr. Soto was resisting arrest on Thursday, which caused the police to start beating him in public view. Soto had before served 12 years in jail as a political prisoner. Officials from the Cuban government have not been available for comment.
Sanchez is calling for an open investigation of the incident, and argues that the Cuban police are becoming increasingly brutal. The death of Soto follows that of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42-year-old dissident who died in February last year, after an 85-day hunger strike over demands for better prison conditions. The incident provoked the release of 52 political prisoners three months later. More than a hundred prisoners have since then been release, most into exile in Spain.
Soto was buried on the day of his death, and Reuters reported that some 80 people attended his funeral, including prominent dissidents. It is unknown if his death will be officially attributed to police brutality since Pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas, has a number of possible causes. Farinas also acknowledged to AP that Mr. Soto had a number of pre-existing health issues including diabetes, circulatory and heart problems, and gout.
The Cuban government has called the small community of dissidents “mercenaries” of the United States, which they claim finance the resistance with the purpose of undermining the revolution. Sanchez has told the AP that physical intimidation and violence against dissidents has increased in the last two months.
Mr. Farina echoes this statement in the BBC report; “If we do not do something, so that the government changes its stand toward peaceful protestors, we are going to be reporting even more deaths.”