HAVANA – U.S. President Barack Obama met with Cuban dissidents and independent representatives of civil society at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Tuesday.
Attending the meeting were 13 opposition figures and critics of the Cuban government including blogger Miriam Celaya and Manuel Cuesta Morua, with the Arco Progresista group, seated to Obama’s right and left, respectively, during the get-together, EFE learned.
Also on hand at the meeting was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, along with Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation spokesman Elizardo Sanchez, psychologist Guillermo Fariñas, former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and independent journalist Miriam Leyva.
Rounding out the group of intellectual critics of the Cuban government were Dagoberto Valdes and Antonio Gonzales Rodiles; Laritza Diversent, an independent attorney for the Cubalex Legal Information Center; LGBT activists Juana Mora and Nelson Alvarez Matute and Angel Yunier Remon, a rapper known as “El Critico” (The Critic).
The issue of human rights and freedoms has been a key element of Obama’s visit and on Tuesday, in a speech to the Cuban people aired on state television, he defended democracy as a system that gives people “the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.”
In recent days, Cuban police have temporarily arrested dissidents and activists, such as on Sunday, just hours before Obama’s arrival, when about 60 opposition members were taken into custody after the traditional Sunday march by the Ladies in White.
At the press conference offered yesterday in Havana by the presidents of Cuba and the United States, the issue of political prisoners once again came up when a reporter asked Raul Castro about it.
“Give me the list of political prisoners and I will release them,” the Cuban leader declared as a way to deny that there are such prisoners being held on the communist island.
According to calculations by Elizardo Sanchez’s commission, currently there are about 90 people incarcerated in Cuba for political reasons.
Amnesty International recently said in a report that there are now no prisoners of conscience in Cuban jails, after the release of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” last October.