POLITICS

Cuba arrests 90 dissidents during peaceful march; 'It's all [Obama's] fault,' protesters say

  • March 18, 2012: Members of dissident group Ladies in White take part in their weekly march in front of Santa Rita church in Havana, Cuba.

    March 18, 2012: Members of dissident group Ladies in White take part in their weekly march in front of Santa Rita church in Havana, Cuba.  (AP)

  • People show their support for an activist group in Cuba.

    People show their support for an activist group in Cuba.  (2010 Getty Images)

Amid increased trips to the island by U.S. business leaders and elected officials since presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced in December the restoration of diplomatic relations, Cuban authorities arrested about 90 dissidents who were protesting on Sunday.

The mass arrests also came less than a week before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Havana for the reopening of the U.S. Embassy, an event that will be marked by the raising of the U.S. flag.

Cuba briefly detained dozens of activists who were advocating that the United States should do more to curb ongoing human rights abuses.

The dissidents, who included about 50 members of the Ladies in White, were held for about five hours then released, according to according to Agence France-Presse.

At the protest calling for human rights, many activists wore masks of Obama’s face. Many blamed him for restoring relations with the regime of Raul Castro and not being firm enough about democratic reform in Cuba.

Activists said repression has grown worse since the return to diplomatic relations was announced.

"It's his fault, what is happening," said former political prisoner Angel Moya, speaking about Obama, according to AFP.

"The Cuban government has grown even bolder," he added before being detained.

"That's why we have this mask on. Because it's his fault," said Moya, who is the husband of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler.

Dissidents who were not among the detained were taunted by pro-regime protesters who shouted: “Down with the pack of worms."

The re-establishment of the U.S. and Cuban embassies on each other’s soil officially occurred on July 20.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington D.C. on that day, but Kerry, who was in the midst of dealing with the Iran nuclear negotiations, scheduled the U.S. reopening for this month.

U.S. officials have said they are not ignoring the human rights problems in Cuba, and have said they have raised the issue in their discussions with Cuban officials. They maintain that having ties with Cuba will encourage democratic reforms on the island.

Critics of the reestablished ties say that the regime will not change its ways, and that it agreed to diplomatic relations for its own financial gain.

“Since the opening of diplomatic relations and of the Cuban embassy in Washington, what’s been going on in Cuba?” wrote Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and deputy national security advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush. “More repression. There were 630 political arrests in June, according to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights.”

“While Kerry was celebrating the opening of Castro’s embassy in Washington, the Cuban regime was cracking down harder on the Cuban people.”

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