HAVANA – The leader of the Cuban opposition group Ladies in White on Wednesday said there has been an increase in the repression of dissidents in the runup to President Barack Obama’s visit to the communist island.
Berta Soler told EFE that she and 16 other women from her group and people associated with the Todos Marchamos opposition platform were “violently” arrested on Tuesday in Havana as they were attempting to attend the trial of Ladies in White member Jaqueline Heredia.
The majority of those arrested were released later Tuesday afternoon, but Soler was held until nearly midnight at a police station in Alamar, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.
Soler said she was questioned there by three State Security agents who “threatened” her with the aim of getting the group to cancel its regular peaceful Sunday march on March 20, when Obama is due to become the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Also arrested in Havana on Tuesday was former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was trying to attend a gathering of government opponents.
An associate of the dissident told EFE that Ferrer was arrested in Havana about 3 p.m. Tuesday and taken to a police station in the Regla neighborhood, from where he may have been “deported” to his hometown, the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
The U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, expressed her concern about reports from Cuba on the arrests of Soler and Ferrer.
“Very concerned by reports that Cuban gov has detained @jdanielferrer & @bertasoler #Cuba #DDHH,” wrote Jacobson on her official Twitter account.
In a visit to Miami in late February, Soler asked Obama to send a message of “repudiation of the human rights violations in Cuba before your visit.”