HAVANA, Cuba, February 25, 2015 (AMG) — The Castro government reportedly unleashed a new wave of political repression in Cuba on Sunday.

According to dissidents, more than 200 anti-government activists were rounded up by Cuban authorities and detained for a short period. Cuban activists characterized the detentions as part of a larger strategy by the Castro government to discourage and sabotage anti-government meetings and protests before they occur.

Roberta Jacobson – Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and leader of the U.S. delegation to Cuba – tweeted after the arrests that she was “concerned about violent silencing of peaceful voices for change in Cuba.”

Among those arrested were several dozen members of the Ladies in White, a group of the wives and relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents, who were set upon by Cuban authorities during their traditional march through the Miramar District of Havana. They were reportedly joined by around 90 members of the banned Patriotic Union for Cuba and other activists.

Status quo maintained: Elizardo Sanchez – leader of the illegal Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation – described the arrests as “an almost unexpected repressive surge” and argued that the events “demonstrate[d] eloquently that the Cuban government does not have the slightest inclination to bring about changes on the island.”

See also: Should CARICOM now insist for changes to Cuban civil society?

According to a recent report by Sanchez’s commission, the Castro regime only arrested 178 activists in January of 2015 – the lowest monthly figure in the last four years. Many optimists had hoped that this softening of Cuban political repression stemmed, at least in part, from the diplomatic normalization efforts initiated by Havana and Washington in December of last year.

Bilateral talks press on: The new spat of arbitrary arrests and detentions calls into question the viability of that view and reinforces the claims of hard-liners like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R) – who publicly accused President Obama of ignoring the arrests in an effort to form a lasting diplomatic agreement with the Castro regime.

“As the next round of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks begins later this week, U.S. officials are so desperate to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, that they’re forging ahead despite a new wave of repression that has jailed over 200 Cuban democracy activists in the past two weeks,” Rubio recently said in a statement.

But Rubio stands in opposition to a delegation of American lawmakers who visited Cuba last week. Congressman Jim McGovern told reporters during the trip that “the best way to promote human rights [in Cuba] is to accelerate this new process to establish formal embassies in Havana and Washington.”

A new round of talks between representatives of the American and Cuban governments is scheduled to take place in Washington this Friday. The talks – which are set to deal with the planned reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington – could also be marred by seemingly intractable disagreements between the U.S. and Cuban governments over the status of American-owned Guantanamo Bay, where the human rights of terror-suspects held at the detention centre there are reportedly violated on a regular basis.

The process of diplomatic re-engagement between the governments of the United States and Cuba remains an uphill battle.

Cover image: Kurt Bauschardt

200 dissidents arrested in Cuba ahead of Washington talks

Jake Bolton

Jake is a graduate of Drew University with a B.A. in Political Science. He focuses on U.S. foreign policy and labour issues, and resides in Egg Harbor, New Jersey.

Category: Politics