HAVANA – President Barack Obama said in a letter to the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White that he will raise the issue of human rights with Cuba’s leader, Raul Castro, when he makes his historic visit to the island next week.
“I fully understand the obstacles that ordinary Cubans face in exercising their rights. The United States believes that no one in Cuba or anywhere else should face harassment, arrest, or physical assault just because they are exercising a universal right to have their voices heard,” Obama wrote in a missive dated March 10.
“As I have in the past, I will raise these issues directly with President Castro,” the U.S. chief executive said.
The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, told EFE that Obama’s letter “is very important because it acknowledges that in Cuba there has been no progress in matters of human rights, and also recognizes the existence of the Ladies in White.”
Soler said that her group wrote a letter to the U.S. president on Jan. 28 in which “we said we are very concerned because nothing has changed in Cuba, nor has the Obama administration expressed any disapproval of the Cuban government so that it stops the police violence and declares an amnesty for political prisoners.”
After the traditional march of the Ladies in White on Sunday after leaving Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, Soler met with her colleagues and other opposition activists at a nearby park and denounced the “harassment, threats, arrests” and the “resurgence of repression” following the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States.
She also said that in recent days they have received warnings that during Obama’s March 20-22 stay in Havana, “they won’t let us go into the streets,” then used the moment too send an invitation to the U.S. president to come and meet with the Ladies in White at Santa Rita Church.
The Cuban government dismisses most dissidents as U.S.-paid mercenaries and “counterrevolutionaries.”