(AP) HAVANA — The husband of an acclaimed dissident Cuban blogger was punched and shouted down by a pro-government mob Friday after he challenged the presumed state agents who earlier roughed up his wife to a street corner debate.
As he promised earlier on his blog, Reinaldo Escobar went to the intersection of Havana's 23rd and G avenues for the proposed discussion. On Thursday, Escobar's wife posted President Barack Obama's responses to her written questions on Cuba-U.S. relations on her "Generacion Y" blog.
Escobar was waiting with at least two companions when he got into an argument with another man. What appeared to a prearranged group of government supporters then moved in, screaming obscenities. They hit him and slapped him in the head and pulled his hair and shirt, but never knocked him down.
Soon, Escobar and the others were surrounded by men thought to be state security agents who protected them as they walked about two blocks. All around, Cubans pushed and screamed "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!" and "Get out worm!" slang for Cuban-American exiles.
At one point, a band organized as part of a nearby street festival joined the mob, marching through flower beds on the median of a boulevard. The music added an odd soundtrack to a tense situation.
After about 10 minutes, Escobar and the others were placed in unmarked cars and driven away.
Ahead of Escobar's arrival Friday, Cuba's Young Communists Union organized a street book fair on the same corner, blocking off traffic.
It was unclear if the security agents who came Friday where the same ones who presumably assaulted his wife, Yoani Sanchez, two weeks earlier. After the incident, Escobar challenged the alleged assailants to a verbal duel.
Sanchez answered the phone at the couple's apartment moments after Friday's bedlam, but hung up without confirming where her husband was taken. Pro-government "acts of repudiation" against dissidents happen a few times a year. Usually, state security gives opposition activists a ride home after a few minutes to keep things from getting too violent.
"This street is Fidel's!" the mob shouted. They eventually chanted the name of the current president, Raul Castro, who replaced Fidel in February of 2008.
A government press agent came to the aid of an Associated Press Television cameraman after a member of the mob shoved him from behind and grabbed his camera. The culprit later apologized, then was led away by another group of men.
For about 10 minutes after Escobar was gone, the crowd continued to chant "Fidel! Fidel!" for international news cameras. Then it dispersed quietly.
On Nov. 6, Sanchez was walking to a nonviolence march when two men in plainclothes forced her into an unmarked sedan, pulled her hair and kicked her. The incident occurred at the same street corner where Escobar was hit and slapped Friday, and Sanchez says state security agents were involved.
The confrontation was so violent, Sanchez said she thought the men might kill her, but instead they dropped her off near her apartment.
She vowed on her blog to keep writing caustic, often witty criticism of the struggles of daily life on an island where there is no freedom of speech or assembly – and people endure shortages of even basic food.
On Thursday, she posted the U.S. president's answers to her written questions but, like nearly all sites critical of the Cuban government, access is blocked on the island.
In the posted responses, Obama said he isn't interested in "talking for the sake of talking" with Raul Castro and indicated he won't visit the island until the communist government changes its ways.
Escobar has his own blog, which is also blocked on the island.
Cuba tolerates no official opposition to its single-party communist system and dismisses nearly everyone who criticizes its government publicly as paid mercenaries of Washington.
Earlier this year, Time magazine named Sanchez – whose blog gets about 1 million hits a month – one of the world's 100 most influential people. Twice this year, she has been denied permission to leave Cuba to collect international journalism prizes.