The Castro government unleashed a new wave of political repression in Cuba over the weekend. More than 200 dissidents were reportedly rounded up by Cuban authorities and detained for a short period. Cuban activists characterized the detentions as part of a larger strategy by the Castro government to discourage and sabotage anti-government meetings and protests before they can occur.
Roberta Jacobson -Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and leader of the U.S. delegation to Cuba- tweeted after the arrests that she was “concerned about violent silencing of peaceful voices for change in Cuba.”
Among those arrested were several dozen members of the Ladies in White, a group of the wives and relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents who were set upon by Cuban authorities during their traditional march through the Miramar District of Havana. They were reportedly joined by around 90 members of the banned Patriotic Union for Cuba and other activists.
Elizardo Sanchez -leader of the illegal Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation- described the arrests as “an almost unexpected repressive surge” and argued that the events “demonstrate[d] eloquently that the Cuban government does not have the slightest inclination to bring about changes on the island.”
According to a recent report by Sanchez’s commission, the Castro regime only arrested 178 activists in January of 2015 -the lowest monthly figure in the last four years. Many optimists had hoped that this softening of Cuban political repression stemmed -at least in part- from the diplomatic normalization efforts initiated by Havana and Washington in December of last year. This new spat of arbitrary arrests and detentions calls into question the viability of that view and reinforce the claims of hardliners like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio -who publicly accused President Obama of ignoring the arrests in an effort to form a lasting diplomatic agreement with the Castro regime.
“As the next round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks begins later this week, U.S. officials are so desperate to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, that they’re forging ahead despite a new wave of repression that has jailed over 200 Cuban democracy activists in the past two weeks,” Rubio recently said in a statement.
Rubio stands in opposition to a delegation of American lawmakers who visited Cuba last week.
One of them, Congressman Jim McGovern, told reporters during the trip that “the best way to promote human rights [in Cuba] is to accelerate this new process to establish formal embassies in Havana and Washington.”
This weekend’s events occurred ahead of a new round of talks between representatives of the American and Cuban governments scheduled to take place in Washington this Friday. The talks -which are set to deal with the planned reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington- could also be marred by seemingly intractable disagreements between the U.S. and Cuban governments over the status of American-owned Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -were the human rights of terror-suspects held at the detention center there are repodedly violated on a regular basis.
The process of diplomatic re-engagement between the governments of the United States and Cuba remains an uphill battle.