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US Defends Cuba Policy After Dissident Arrests



Dissidents in Cuba are criticizing Cuban officials for detaining several activists last week. The dissidents say the detention shows what they call the “fallacy” – mistaken belief – of U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. They also say his decision to ease some restrictions between the countries is a mistake.

The Cuban activist group “Ladies in White” is demanding the release of political prisoners and improved human rights. Berta Solar is head of the group. She says she and others do not believe President Obama’s decision will bring freedom.

She says Mr. Obama “thought this would favor the Cuban people, but that is not the case.” In her words, “everything that comes out of this renewal of ties will benefit the Cuban government and not the Cuban people.”

Dissidents say the arrest of Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera is an example of the continuing repression. Cuban officials arrest her and about 50 others last week for planning an event in Havana’s Revolution Square. They wanted to use the event to push for freedom of expression. Officials later released her and some of the other activists.

The United States condemned the detentions. But State Department official Jen Psaki was asked this week to defend the new U.S. policy.

“One of the reasons why we moved forward with the change in policy is because we want to empower Cuban citizens, to give them greater ability to promote positive change going forward. And a critical focus of our announced actions include continued strong focus on improved human rights conditions, of which we know that the situation in Cuba remains poor.”

The State Department announced on Tuesday that Cuba has freed some of the 53 people the United States considers political prisoners. The Cuban government agreed to their release as part of the effort to improve relations between the countries.

Critics of normalizing ties include leading lawmakers of the two main U.S. political parties. They say Mr. Obama got little in return from Cuba in exchange for easing some of the years-old economic restrictions.

The Washington Post newspaper published an editorial on U.S. relations with Cuba. It said the detention of Tania Bruguera shows that the president should have demanded protections for pro-democracy activists in return for better relations.

In Cuba, dissidents like Elizardo Sanchez feel disheartened.

He says “We do not see any sign that the government is willing to make the reforms the country needs. So everything will continue more or less the same as it has been in previous years.”

January first marked 56 years since Fidel Castro came to power and launched the Cuban Revolution. Today, many Cubans are waiting to see if the new U.S. policy will have any effect on their daily lives or on the Cuban government.

I’m Bob Doughty.

This report was based on a story from VOA’s Bill Rodgers. George Grow wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

dissidents - n. individuals who strongly disagree with their government

mistake - n. a wrong action or decision; an action done without the knowledge that it was wrong

release - n. freedom; permission to go

freedom - n. not in prison; independent; not limited by rules; without cost

disheartenedv. to lose hope, enthusiasm, or courage

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