Cuba Opens Embassy in the Shadow of More Political Arrests
Español“With or without the embassy, the Cuban government will continue to do whatever they want.” These words from Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White democratic opposition, have been echoed by dissidents across the island and abroad. As she and others have documented, the Cuban flag may now fly over the embassy in Washington, DC, but the regime has continued with heavy-handed arrests against peaceful human-rights activists.
Their warnings preceded this morning, July 20, when the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, confirmed by the opening of the Cuban embassy at the US capital. The entourage of Cuban guests included Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, pro-Castro activists, artists, and veterans of the revolution, who celebrated and sang the Cuban national anthem.
Songs such as “Alerta, alerta, aquel que camine, el ejército de Cuba por América Latina” (Alert, alert, he who is walking, the army of Cuba is in Latin America”) and “Viva Cuba, Viva Raul” could be heard by anyone near the embassy.
However, Rosa María Payá, the daughter of a political dissident likely murdered by the Castros, said that the Cuban flag “represents the Cuban people, but the people inside that embassy represent no one. Because no one chose them.”
In the days prior, General Raúl Castro said to Cubans via state television that a new stage was about to begin, “long and complex on the road to normalization.” What the Communist Party chief meant remains to be seen, since his agents arrested dozens of activists on Sunday, mere hours before the start of the diplomatic ceremony.
Daniel Ferrrer, coordinator of the Patriotic Cuban Party, confirmed with the PanAm Post that more than 70 activists, included women, were detained on Sunday. Cuban state police have been doing this, Ferrer says, for 14 consecutive Sundays, either before or after traditional mass at the Santa Rita Church in the capital.
“Most of the arrests were in Havana and included political dissidents such as Berta Soler, Antonio Rodiles, Ángel Moya, and Jorge luis ‘Antunez’ Garcia,” Ferrer explained. He added that there were other arrests reported in Guantánamo province.
Before the arrests took place, activists were marching along Fifth Avenue in Havana, and looking forward to joining rock musician Gorki Águila in Gandhi Park. He was among the crowd, along with Ángel Santiesteban, a recently released political prisoner, after two years behind bars.
“I know that if the police arrest me they will revoke my release [and send me back to jail], but I have to be here today, to give my two cents with respect to the rights and freedoms of other people imprisoned,” Santiesteban explained.
Ferrer noted that the repression continued, just like any other Sunday: “During week days, Cubans also witness these kinds of arrests, which demonstrate the policy of the Castro brothers, to suppress all kinds of peaceful activism and violate human rights.”
In the week prior, the Cuban regime detained at least 120 dissidents. Further, a recent report from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami documents that Cuban agents carried out more than 2,000 arrests for purely political reasons between April and June this year.
As for the opening of the US embassy in Cuba, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Havana on August 14 to raise the flag on the island. It will mark the first time since 1945 that a US secretary of state has visited Cuba.
Calls to End the Embargo
Dictator Castro has demanded that US President Barack Obama, as part of the normalization of relations, lift the economic embargo on Cuba, established in 1962.
“We hope that Obama continues to use his executive powers to dismantle aspects of this policy, that is causing damage and hardship to our people,” Castro said at the Cuban Communist Parliament last Wednesday, although no foreign press were allowed to attend.
Obama has already petitioned Congress on the matter, but has faced strident opposition, particularly from Cubans such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
Ana Rosa Quintana, a Latin America policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation and the daughter of Cuban exiles, refuses to acknowledge the embassy. She says “the only embargo that needs to be lifted is that of the Cuban government against the Cuban people.”