POLITICS

Cuban dissidents say being snubbed from Embassy opening is ‘slap in the face’

  • FILE- In this July 20, 2015, file photo, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, right of center, applauds with other dignitaries after raising the Cuban flag over their new embassy in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File)

    FILE- In this July 20, 2015, file photo, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, right of center, applauds with other dignitaries after raising the Cuban flag over their new embassy in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File)

  • Jan. 19, 2015: A Cuban and American flag wave from the balcony of the Hotel Saratoga in Havana.

    Jan. 19, 2015: A Cuban and American flag wave from the balcony of the Hotel Saratoga in Havana.  (AP)

José Lino Ascencio López, whose activism for freedom of speech and human rights in his native Cuba has landed him in jail there several times, wants to go the ceremony Friday for the historic opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

But Lopez and other Cuban dissidents have not been invited by the Obama administration, which does not want to risk angering the Castro regime and ending up with Cuban officials boycotting a ceremony that is meant to be a key emblem of the renewed diplomatic relations between the two long-time adversaries.

“It is nothing less than a slap in the face to the opposition movement in Cuba,” Lopez said in an interview with Fox News Latino. “To explicitly keep away people who have risked their lives – whose blood has been shed, fighting for human rights, challenging the dictatorship of the Castro brothers – is an insult and an utter lack of compassion by U.S. officials.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intends to meet more quietly with prominent activists later in the day, officials said. Kerry's visit is the first by a sitting U.S. secretary of state to Cuba since World War II.

To explicitly keep away people who have risked their lives -- whose blood has been shed, fighting for human rights, challenging the dictatorship of the Castro brothers -- is an insult and an utter lack of compassion by U.S. officials.

- Cuban dissident José Lino Ascencio López, on U.S. decision not to invite dissidents to reopening of U.S. Embassy in Havana

Lopez says it is important for dissidents to be able to attend the ceremony because it makes a statement that human rights is respected and that their struggle is valued.

“There are many of us still in jail, simply for raising the issue of freedom, of liberty,” Lopez said. “It’s the dictatorship’s political police keeping the repression going.”

Lopez said that if the past is any indication, Cuban security forces will make sure to keep dissidents away from the area around the new U.S. Embassy.

“They mobilize their neighborhood watch groups and make sure that those of us who live outside Havana can’t reach it,” said Lopez, who lives in Santa Clara, which is about a three-hour drive from Havana. “They’ll arrest some dissidents to make sure they’re unable to cause problems.”

Lopez was among 53 dissidents released by Cuban authorities earlier this year as part of the accord with the U.S. government to restore diplomatic relations.

The Obama administration says it is normalizing ties with Cuba after more than 50 years of hostility failed to shake the communist state's hold on power. It argues that dealing directly with Cuba over issues ranging from human rights to trade is far likelier to produce democratic and free-market reforms over the long term.

Dissident Yoani Sanchez's online newspaper 14ymedio has received no credential for the U.S. embassy event, said editor Reinaldo Escobar, who is married to Sanchez.

"The right thing to do would be to invite us and hear us out despite the fact that we don't agree with the new U.S. policy," said Antonio Rodiles, head of the dissident group Estado de SATS.

More than 20 U.S. lawmakers have visited Cuba since February without meeting the opposition groups that were once obligatory for congressional delegations.

This week, after Cuba briefly rounded up dozens of protesting dissidents, the U.S. didn't suggest such action would delay Kerry's trip or cool relations.

"It wouldn't be surprising if North American diplomats prioritize contacts with the Cuban government," said Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a relatively moderate dissident group. "If we show up, they leave."

The administration’s decision to ban dissidents from the embassy ceremony came under fire by some members of Congress who oppose the normalization of relations.

“This is a new low for President Obama and a slap in the face by this administration to Cuba’s courageous democracy activists,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose parents came from Cuba. “Cuban dissidents are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people and it is they who deserve America's red carpet treatment,‎ not Castro regime officials."

"What a pathetic policy President Obama has embarked on that shuns Cuban dissidents like this, yet has welcomed Castro regime officials to the White House.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.