U.S. Secretary of State Meets with Cuban Dissidents

As mentioned in prior posts, on August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the main remarks at the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and thereafter held closed-door meetings with the Cuban Foreign Minister and other diplomats. That afternoon he attended a meeting with Cuban dissidents at the official Havana residence of the head of that Embassy, charge d’ affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis. [1] Who was there? What happened?

The gathering was attended by diplomats, Cuban-Americans, advocates of warming relations with Cuba and Cuban dissidents, including Jose Daniel Ferrer, Miriam Leiva and Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog Generation Y[2]

According to the Associated Press, Kerry told the group that Cuban leaders should not expect to see progress on the embargo without improvements in civil liberties in Cuba, which does not allow independent media, political parties other than the ruling communist party or direct election of anything but low-level municipal posts. “There is no way Congress will lift the embargo if we are not making progress on issues of conscience,” he said.

On August 19, Yoani Sanchez wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled “The Meaning of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.” She said, “The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening. . . . it is the end of one stage. . . . Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far.”

Moreover, she says, Cuban government officials no longer legitimately may assert that the U.S. is an enemy after the officials are seen by all Cubans “shaking hands with their opponent and explaining the change as a new era.” Now the Cuban government must “understand that we are living in new times—moments of reaching out to the people, and helping them to see that there is a country after the dictatorship and that they can be the voice of millions who suffer every day economic hardship, lack of freedom, police harassment, and lack of expectations. The authoritarianism expressed in warlordism, not wanting to speak with those who are different, or snubbing the other for not thinking like they do, are just other ways of reproducing the Castro regime.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, A Festive Flag-Raising, Then Tough Talk on US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2015); Gordon, Kerry Strikes Delicate Balance in Havana Trip for Embassy Flag-Raising, N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2015); Klapper & Weissenstein, Kerry calls for democracy as US flag is raised in Cuba, Wash. Post (Aug. 14, 2015).

[2] The dissidents were not invited to the embassy ceremony to avoid tensions with Cuban officials who typically boycott events attended by the country’s small political opposition. This was criticized in editorials in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

 

 

Cuba’s Unhappiness with U.S. Meeting with Cuban Dissidents

On Friday, January 23rd (the day after the conclusion of the two-day diplomatic meeting), U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson hosted a breakfast meeting with seven Cuban dissidents at the Havana official residence of the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section. She said it was an “opportunity to discuss their perspectives, hear their differences, sometimes, or their support for the new policy. It’s very important to hear their perspective and see how we can help in the future.”[1]

One of the breakfast guests was Antonio Rodiles, founder of the activist group Estado de SATS, who said, “The breakfast was cordial, but we said we still have doubts about the next steps.” He and others thought that Cuban concessions on human rights and free expression should have been a pre-condition of any new U.S. policy and that the Cuban diaspora, primarily in the United States, should have been consulted. Some said the Obama administration, was effectively cherry-picking its preferred dissidents, focusing attention on those who supported Obama’s outreach.

Another guest, Jose Daniel Ferrer, the head of the Cuban Patriotic Union, widely considered the largest and most active opposition group, with up to 5,000 open and underground members, observed, that the Cuban “people are still assimilating” the historic changes in the relations of the two countries and that some Cubans resent the eighteen-months of secret talks before announcing last month that they would restore diplomatic ties.

Elizardo Sanchez, the head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, commented, “We don’t expect miracles.” But he had a list of 24 prisoners who have been detained for between 12 to 24 years for politically associated crimes, and ongoing U.S. pressure on human rights issues was “essential, for as long as this system of political and economic repression continues.”

Miriam Leiva, the founder of the Ladies in White and a former Cuban diplomat and an independent journalist, said, “Jacobson showed the interest of the U.S. government in providing support for the Cuban opposition, respect for human rights in Cuba and the desire to advance the Cuban people. ”

Others at the breakfast included; Hector Maceda, president of the Cuban Liberal Democratic Party; activist and hunger striker Guillermo“Coco” Fariñas; and dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque.

At least one activist, Berta Soler of the Ladies in White group of political prisoner families, declined Jacobson’s breakfast invitation. Two who attended said they told Jacobson that they disapproved of the new U.S. policy.

After this meeting Jacobson met with influential Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Later that same day Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for the United States, said that U.S. support for dissidents is an “action that isn’t acceptable for Cuba, and they know it.” Moreover, she indicated that whether or not Cuba would accept the U.S. request to allow U.S. diplomats to go where they want was associated with “better behavior” by the U.S.

Vidal also noted, “This is exactly one of the differences we have with the U.S. government because for us, this is not just genuine, legitimate Cuban civil society.” This small group of people “do not represent Cuban society, don’t represent the interests of the Cuban people.”

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Klapper & Weissenstine, U.S., Cuba End Historic talks with More Questions than Answers, Assoc. Press (Jan. 23, 2015); DeYoung & Miroff, U.S. diplomats meet with Cuban dissidents in Havana in gesture of reassurance, Wash. Post (Jan. 23, 2015); Reuters, Senior U.S. Diplomat Ruffles Cuba by Meeting Dissidents, N.Y. Times (Jan. 23, 2015); Maye, Cuban dissidents divided attend attend the meeting with Roberta Jacobson, El Pais (Jan. 23, 2015); Ayuso, The dialogue between the US and Cuba exposes the division of dissent, El Pais (Jan. 24, 2015).