Cuban exiles who warned that the regime of Raúl Castro would continue oppressing its people despite resuming diplomatic relations with the United States say that they hope that people have realized that their skepticism was well-founded.
Just two weeks after President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was going to change dramatically its dealings with the island nation – ending a half-century break in diplomatic relations by broadening travel opportunities between the two nations and establishing embassies on each other’s soil, among other things – Cuban authorities detained dozens of political opponents immediately before a planned rally encouraging Cubans to voice their hope for a new future was to take place.
Many exiles criticized the surprising announcement by the Obama administration, saying that the U.S. had taken steps to lift many restrictions on Cuba without securing any real assurances by the Cuban president about human rights on the island or making democratic reforms.
“I don’t know if the crackdown on dissidents will vindicate us,” Luis Israel Abreu, a former political prisoner who lives in New Jersey, told Fox News Latino. “But even people who supported Obama’s deal with Raúl Castro are speaking out about the arrest and detention of dissidents, and perhaps that will help give credibility to our warnings about the dictatorship in Cuba.”
“Having the editorial pages and the White House speak out against the oppressive action against people who want liberty is, frankly, better than all the protests and speeches we exiles have on Bergenline Avenue,” Abreu said, referring to a major commercial thoroughfare in New Jersey that runs through Cuban-American enclaves.
In Miami, Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, a lobbying group was founded in 1981 by veterans of covert U.S.-supported missions to overthrow Fidel and Raúl Castro, said the crackdown on dissidents fill him and other exiles with a stronger determination to continue to support those fighting for democracy on the island.
Hernandez, who has lauded some aspects of the new relations, such as an expansion of people-to-people programs between Cuba and the United States, said that many members of the Communist Party hierarchy do not want an improvement in relations – nor more freedom for the Cuban people – because it would mean losing hold on the power they’ve enjoyed for decades.
“There’s no doubt a faction inside the leadership in the regime is against change because for so long they’ve been about control, and retaining power, and keeping the people restricted,” Hernandez said. “Fidel Castro was very much against easing control over the people, and Raúl Castro is very much a believer in that too."
He continued, "But even Raúl has been open to considering more flexibility, and another faction in the regime sees a necessity in opening up more to the United States, there will be this group that will fight it and will fight attempts by dissidents to test the oppressive system.”
At the center of the recent crackdown is an artist, Tania Bruguera, who lives in both Miami and Cuba and organized a protest performance that called for setting up an open microphone for Cuban citizens to air their political views. Cuban police arrested and detained Bruguera on charges of disturbing public order for organizing the event. They released her briefly but put her back in custody before she could hold a planned meeting with journalists.
Her mother, Argelia Fernandez, told the Associated Press by phone that her daughter had been home and then left. The mother said a state security officer later came to her house and told her that Bruguera was speaking with other security officials and would return home soon.
Bruguera didn’t appear as scheduled to speak with the press in late afternoon. Her supporters had announced plans for that meeting in an emailed statement earlier in the day reporting that the artist had been freed. They said her cellphone and passport had been confiscated.
Dissidents say Cuban officials detained dozens of members of the political opposition Tuesday, hours ahead of Bruguera’s planned protest, which was seen as a test of the government’s tolerance for dissent. Most were released within a day.
The editorial pages of many major news outlets expressed disappointment in the crackdown, and some said it exposed a flaw in the U.S. agreement.
“There was no reference to consequences in the event Havana does not comply,” the Washington Post said in an editorial about the U.S.-Cuba deal. “That’s hardly a robust stance to strike with a regime that is desperate for the economic resources that would come with expanded travel by U.S. citizens and other benefits unconditionally promised by Mr. Obama.”
The editorial continued, “The president could have conditioned those measures on guarantees that free speech would be respected and peaceful dissidents left unharassed – steps that fall far short of the full establishment of democracy required by U.S. law for the lifting of the trade embargo.”
#CubaNow, a group that supports lifting the embargo and re-establishing relations between the longtime adversaries, also condemned the crackdown, but it maintained that more contact between Cuba and the United States can be crucial to pushing the regime to allow more freedom on the island.
"Today's detentions in Havana are a reminder that change won't happen overnight in Cuba, and that it is Cuban voices that can most effect change in their country,” said Ric Herrero, the group’s executive director. “The major policy change announced on Dec. 17, however, began the important process of taking away the Cuban government's biggest excuse for its repressive practices.”
He added, “Their attempt to blame U.S. policy for today's inexcusable actions only underscores why our failed half-century old policies needed to change. The Cuban government must understand that people have the right to express themselves, even when they disagree with their government.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente