The Cuban government is not giving dissenters a free ride merely because a democratically elected president has dropped by for a visit. On Monday, more than 20 political dissidents were arrested, some on their way to a silent march, human-rights activist Elizardo Sánchez told CNN. Among the detained were the “Ladies in White,” a group made up of the family members of political prisoners. The arrest follows another sweep on Sunday, in which more than 60 protesters were detained as President Obama’s plane was touching down in Havana.
After an awkward press conference in which Cuban president Raúl Castro showed off some artful press-dodging, asking CNN reporter Jim Acosta “What political prisoners?,” even more arbitrary detentions took place. Antonio Rodiles, a Cuban dissident, said that he and his wife were arrested “in a violent way” and detained for more than six hours for chanting in favor of democracy on their way to an interview with CNN on Monday. Rodiles said that he is being followed by the police and plans on being one of a group of dissidents to meet with Obama on Tuesday.
According to Sánchez, there are 77 political prisoners in Cuban prisons and 11 under house arrest — not including Monday’s arrests. During the Monday press conference, Castro asked for a list of the arbitrarily detained political dissidents and said that he would release them immediately. (Obama told ABC that Castro has not handed over anyone just yet, but that he has given the Cuban president such lists “in the past.”) Deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes said that during the countries’ normalization discussions a list of 53 political prisoners was given to Castro, all of which he promptly released.
Speaking in Havana on Tuesday, Obama said he was there to “bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” He continued, saying that although he can’t tell the Cuban people what to do, he did not agree with Cuba’s suppression of dissenting voices. “I believe citizens should be free to criticize their governments,” said Obama. “I believe citizens should be able to speak their minds without fear.”