Women Arrested In Cuba During Human Rights Protest, Trying To Get Obama’s Attention

A human rights organization known as Ladies In White staged a protest today in hopes of being noticed by international media. They were taking advantage of the timing of President Obama’s visit, hoping that Cuban authorities would not arrest them. But despite the presence of dozens of international reporters, the women were “quickly rounded up in buses and police cars,” USA Today said. It was nothing new for the ladies, who march each Sunday following mass at a church in Miramar, a suburb of Havana. USA Today said they “usually get arrested and detained for hours or days.”

The human rights group of 50 or more was formed in 2013 by the wives of political prisoners. One of the group’s founding members, Berta Soler, managed to get a statement in before she was incarcerated.

“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. And he needs to know that we are here being repressed simply for exercising our right to express ourselves and manifest in a non-violent way.”

In a video yesterday posted by BBC News, the Ladies In White described how they were beaten by officials during arrests, and one of them had actually been bitten on her face. She displayed the teeth marks in the interview. In preparing for President Obama’s visit, they were divided about how much good it will do.

“He will arrive in a repressed Cuba. And he will leave from a repressed Cuba.”

BBC News reported that some of the group’s members will meet U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit. The White House confirmed that this visit would happen on Tuesday, according to USA Today.

But several of the group members are saying they don’t know if they will be allowed to go.

Guillermo Farinas, one of the leading voices in Cuba’s human rights movement, is waiting at a friend’s house until Tuesday. He says he has been placed under house arrest. He said that other dissidents like him are being kept under house arrest until Obama’s visit. He said that President Obama is obligated to insist on a resolution to the Cuban human rights issues.

“The most important thing for us is that President Obama doesn’t allow the Cuban government to use his visit to create an image of complicity with the actions of the totalitarian regime.”

An article in The Washington Times stated that President Obama would have “a private meeting” with dissidents and strongly promote democratic reform and the improvement of human rights. But Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said President Obama cannot empower Cubans.

“The Cuban people empowered themselves decades ago.”

Mr. Rodriguez added that if the American president is focused on empowering Cubans, “something must be going wrong in U.S. democracy.”

During Sunday’s protest, Cubans shouted at the dissidents, calling them “delinquents.” Teonila Reve, a retired Spanish teacher, told USA Today that the protesters receive salaries from U.S. government grants designed to undermine the Cuban government, or from Cuban-Americans in Miami who want to topple the Castro regime.

“They’re a disgrace to the Revolution.”

Another heckler, Felipe Hernandez Serrano, agreed with her.

“The government doesn’t arrest innocent people. They stop agitators. You have to respect the authorities, just like you have to do in the United States.”

A Lady In White group member told BBC News the following.

“There are groups who want reform within the current government. We don’t want reform. We want a radical change. There will be a moment when we will be united, because we all want the same: Freedom.”

The Washington Times states that Mr. Obama is making the Cuba visit a family “spring break-like” trip. He arrives Sunday with the first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson.

Mr. Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

[Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/AP Images]