Cuban government authorities arrested dozens of dissidents across the country Sunday in the first major crack down since Fidel Catro’s death, according to activists.
The crackdown focused on the country’s eastern region, disrupting planned protests demanding the release of political prisoners. A U.S. human rights lawyer is reported to be among those arrested.
“There was a joint operation at 6:00 am in Santiago and Palma Soriano. They searched four homes, and so far we have 42 reported arrests — 20 in Santiago, 12 in Palma and 10 in Havana,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), told AFP by phone.
The Cuban government, headed by Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, claims there are no political prisoners in Cuba, only criminals. Ferrer himself was once a victim of the regime.
“They threatened me, and said by calling the demonstration I was facilitating public disorder…. disobedience and espionage,” said Ferrer, describing his arrest.
The Ladies in White, an award-winning activist group, reported at least 20 of its members were “under siege” in their homes, effectively preventing them from protesting. The group is one of the most internationally recognized organizations pushing for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners. More than 50 of the Ladies in White were arrested for protesting hours before President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March.
Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba through repression for nearly half a century, died Nov. 25, 2016. Raul Castro took over as president in 2008. The Castro regime is believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 9,200 people. Another 78,000 are estimated to have died attempting to escape the dictatorship.
Obama’s visit to Cuba marked a major change in U.S. policy toward the Caribbean nation, which is still technically under a U.S. embargo.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, wrote an op-ed on Medium.com describing the alleged successes of Obama’s change in policy a day before the crackdown.
“The results are clear: engagement has worked,” claimed Rhodes.
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