A group of Cuban dissidents invited to attend events at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas were insulted and physically assaulted by a swarm of dozens of communist Cuban officials and supporters in Panama on Wednesday.
Multiple videos taken by both citizen and network journalists show the dissidents, including prominent former political prisoners and leaders of the Ladies in White solidarity movement, being shoved away from a bust of Cuban poet and hero José Martí as they peacefully marched to the monument to lay flowers in his honor. The bust is located near the Cuban embassy in Havana.
In the first video, from Miami’s America TeVe, the reporter notes that, almost immediately upon arriving at the bust with flowers, Jorge García Pérez– a dissident who spent 17 years in Castro’s political prisons for refusing to support the regime– can be seen requesting that the mass of communist supporters that had congregated move to allow easier access to the bust for the dissidents. After a chant of “libertad!” (freedom), the communist supporters begin shoving the dissidents and eventually beating them, the scene culminating with a group of communist supporters kicking a dissident repeatedly who had been knocked to the ground. One communist attempts to block the camera several times with a red flag. (Violence and language warning, in Spanish, after the 2:00 mark):
The altercation occurred in broad daylight, eventually subdued by Panamanian officials. NBC reports that at least three U.S. citizens were involved in the melee– Cuban Americans who traveled to Panama to support the dissident group.
The Cuban dissidents were invited by officials organizing the Summit of the Americas to participate in various forums, including the Civil Society Forum scheduled for Wednesday. Their presence was announced in March, after officials also extended an invitation to the Cuban government to attend the conference for the first time, following major concessions on the part of the Obama administration to the Castro regime in December.
At the time, many expressed concern that a dictatorship had no part to play in the conference, which explicitly bans the presence of non-democratic governments. Leftist Panamanian groups, on the other hand, began condemning the presence of dissidents at the conference, threatening to “take appropriate measures” to silence them. At least one dissident, Rosa Maria Payá, was immediately apprehended by Cuban agents upon landing in Panama and threatened with violence should she continue her campaign. The Panamanian government has since apologized for the encounter.
The Cuban government accepted the invitation to the Summit, however, and responded to the invitation of dissidents by organizing a coalition of 300 “real” organizations controlled by the government to counter their presence at the civil society forum.
The groups barely got a chance to counter the dissidents; Cuba walked out of the forum yesterday almost immediately.
President Obama nonetheless plans to “interact” in some way with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, according to White House officials. The exchange will be the first since the two shook hands at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and the first since President Obama announced a concessions package to the Cuban regime that many have interpreted as a “diplomatic thaw” between the two nations.