Facing its first diplomatic challenge since normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration issued a strongly-worded letter condemning the arrest of at least six Cuban dissidents in Havana on Tuesday.
The arrests came shortly before an open mic event called #YoTambienExijo, or #IAlsoDemand, which was being held in Havana’s Revolutionary Square, according to NBC News.
Dissidents at the event planned to speak for one minute to share their thoughts about Cuba’s future following the historic agreement between the U.S. and Cuba, which the Obama administration announced Dec. 17 upon the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. aid contractor held on spy charges in Cuba since 2009.
According to Reuters, the dissidents were arrested and charged with “political provocation.”
“We are deeply concerned about the latest reports of detentions and arrests by Cuban authorities of peaceful civil society members and activists, including Luis Quintana Rodriguez, Antonio Rodiles, Danilo Maldonado, Reinaldo Escobar, Marcelino Abreu Bonora and Eliecer Avila,” Jeff Rathke, the director of the bureau of public affairs at the State Department said in a statement Wednesday morning.
According to the website 14ymedio, Escobar, who is editor-in-chief of the site, was released Tuesday night. Other detainees — including some not listed by the State Department, such as event organizer Tania Buguera — remained in custody, the site reported.
“We strongly condemn the Cuban government’s continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom expression, and intimidate citizens,” Rathke continued in his statement, reiterating the Obama administration’s stated commitment to continue pressuring the Cuban government to “respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions.”
As part of the normalcy plan, the U.S. will re-open the embassy in Cuba while also easing financial and travel restrictions.
Many have criticized Obama’s move, saying that the U.S. is foolish to believe that normalization will improve the plight of the Cuban people under the Castro regime. One such critic, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, cited Tuesday’s dissident crackdown as evidence that the U.S.’s new posture towards Cuba will do little to spark reform there.
“The Castro regime’s latest acts of repression against political dissidents in Cuba make a mockery of President Obama’s new U.S.-Cuba policy,” Rubio said in a statement, Reuters reported.