Sweeping arrests of Cuban dissidents in an aggressive crackdown on dissent punctuated President Barack Obama’s Monday visit to Havana, his first ever.
The Ladies In White is an organization made up of the spouses and family members of various political prisoners in Cuba. The activists have since 2013 engaged in a peaceful protest every Sunday after Mass in the neighborhood of Miramar, just outside Havana.
Protester Glavys Fernández told the British daily The Guardian, “My son and his wife are in jail now. They all are. The police were very violent.” Just before her arrest, Berta Soler of The Ladies In White told USA Today, “For us, it’s very important that we do this so President Obama knows that there are women here fighting for the liberty of political prisoners.”
One of the main sticking points of newly reestablished U.S.-Cuba relationship is the communist nation’s human rights record. The Cuban Embassy reopened July 2015 in Washington, D.C., and the US Embassy reopened August 2015 in Havana. The U.S. and Cuba normalized relations in December 2014 after Obama announced a shift in US policy via executive order.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled a trip to Cuba earlier in March after it was clear that Cuban officials were unwilling to discuss human rights issues in a transparent manner. The Obama Administration hopes that Cuba can change by liberalizing its economy, which can eventually lead to more freedoms for the Cuban people.
Calvin Coolidge was the last U.S. president to visit Cuba. Obama arrived in the Communist dictatorship just over a year after he announced the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
Obama’s visit was met with bipartisan disapproval by various Cuban-American legislators. including House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chairman Emeritus Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and HFAC Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) along with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
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