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Cuban Dissidents Divided Over Obama Visit

Activists argue that the move comes at a time of heightened repression.
By Ernesto García Díaz
  • The prress conference held at the Directorio Democrático Cubano. (Photo: Ernesto García)
    The prress conference held at the Directorio Democrático Cubano. (Photo: Ernesto García)
  • Raúl Castro and Barack Obama. (Photo: mvsnoticias/creative commons)
    Raúl Castro and Barack Obama. (Photo: mvsnoticias/creative commons)
  • Berta Soler speaks to reporters. (Photo: Ernesto García)
    Berta Soler speaks to reporters. (Photo: Ernesto García)
  • The headquarters of the Movimiento Democracia. (Photo: Ernesto García)
    The headquarters of the Movimiento Democracia. (Photo: Ernesto García)

Members of the Cuban opposition have called on US president Barack Obama to condemn Havana’s repressive policies ahead of his historic visit to the island later this month.

Orlando Gutiérrez, president of the Cuban Democratic Directorate NGO, told reporters at an event in Miami that his organisation did not support the state visit.

“The Castro regime has not changed, violations of human rights continue to rise, every day violence increases against the people and the Cuban opposition,” he said. “Political prisoners are not released, nor is there any real democratic change in the country.”

In January, the Spain-based Cuban Observatory of Human Rights recorded 1,474 arbitrary arrests in Cuba.

According to statistics collected since 2010 by the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, this was the highest monthly figure since their records began.

Activists from within Cuba as well as exiles spoke at the February 27 event held by the Presidio Político Histórico Cubano.

One of the guests was Berta Soler Fernández, the leader of the Ladies in White, a pacifist group campaigning for human rights on the island.

She argued that Obama had chosen to visit “in times of increased repression, when political prisoners who were released precisely as a result of the [December 2014] agreements between the two governments are kept imprisoned.

“There is a lot of hypocrisy by the president of the United States,” she concluded.

Other Cubans who travelled to Miami for the event included Antonio Rodiles, project coordinator of State of Sats and a prominent critic of the US-Cuba détente, as well as Jorge Luis Pérez Antúnez, general secretary of the Civic Resistance Front.

Gorki Águila, the frontman of famed Cuban rock band Porno para Ricardo, and independent journalist and blogger Yuri Valle Roca were also there.

Exiles who attended the briefing included Santiago Álvarez, the president of the Legal Rescue Foundation, and Luis Felipe Rojas from the Democracy Movement.

The Cuban opposition has been divided on the issue of dialogue between Havana and Washington ever since the detente was announced in December 2014.

Obama will be the first US president to visit Cuba in 88 years and his trip is seen as a major step in the normalisation of bilateral relations.

Ernesto García Díaz is a journalist for the digital news portal Cubanet News, and an intern with IWPR.