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Obama Meets with Anti-Castro, Anti-Obama Cuban Dissidents

The White House has released a list of Cuban political dissidents attending a closed meeting with President Barack Obama Tuesday morning, many who have been arrested multiple times shortly before and during the Obamas’ visit, and many who have had harsh words for his “normalization” plan for Cuba.

Following President Obama’s speech to the Cuban people in Havana, the White House pool report confirmed that the following Cuban dissidents met for a round-table discussion with him:

Angel Yunier Remon
Antonio Rodiles
Juana Mora Cedeno
Jose Daniel Ferrer
Laritza Diversent
Berta Soler
Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez
Guillermo Fariñas
Nelson Alvarez Matute
Miriam Celaya Gonzales
Manuel Cuesta Morua
Miriam Leiva Viamonte
Elizardo Sanchez

In a statement following the meeting, President Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of those meeting with him. “There are people here who have been detained. Some in the past, some very recently,” he noted, suggesting that his trip to Cuba was as much about engaging the communist dictatorship’s government as “a matter of us being able to hear directly from the Cuban people and making sure that they have a voice and making sure that their concerns and their ideas are helping to shape US policy.”

The list of names released represents a wide spectrum of anti-Castro opposition, from self-proclaimed progressive Manuel Cuesta Morua to LGBT advocate Juana Mora Cedeño to Laritza Diversent, one of the most active attorneys defending them. It includes two hunger strikes veterans: Angel Yunier Remon, a rapper known as “El Crítico,” and Sakharov Prize winner Guillermo Fariñas, who has conducted 24 hunger strikes while imprisoned.

At least three of those on the list were arrested on Sunday: dissident leaders Antonio Rodiles and Jose Daniel Ferrer and Ladies in White chief organizer Berta Soler.

One dissident on the list, Elizardo Sánchez, told international media that the Cuban government had threatened those on a larger list of invitees not to attend the meeting, but most defied it.

Soler and Rodiles were released from arrest temporarily on Monday. Soler was later arrested and rereleased. Also on tentative leave were some dissidents with whom President Obama did not meet: the controversial anti-Castro artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” and punk rocker Gorki Águila. Águila is reportedly under house arrest by fellow dissidents.

Also under house arrest is Zaqueo Báez, the dissident who was beaten and arrested in front of Pope Francis in September (though Francis later denied knowing about the incident), despite having already served his time for the incident. He says the Pope not only heard him say the word “freedom” and call Fidel Castro a “liar,” but responded with a faint, “Yes, my little son; I already know.”

While photos have surfaced of the meeting, at press time there is no record of what the discussion among the group entailed. Many of those invited have been openly critical of President Obama’s choice of embracing diplomacy with dictator Raúl Castro. Many participated in a protest last year wearing masks of President Obama as a response to his policy shift towards the island.

“This won’t help us at all,” Soler said in July of the new diplomatic efforts made towards Cuba. Guillermo Fariñas described the rapprochement as “an error.” Monday, Rodiles described Cuba as a “repressive circus” emboldened by President Obama: “The regime feels they have carte blanche to do whatever they want.”

Rodiles’ partner, the activist Ailer González, watched President Obama’s speech Tuesday alongside a reporter for The Guardian. She dismissed his embrace of Cuba’s educational and medical system as “bullshit.”

“So far this speech is a gift to Raúl Castro. He will love this,” González told the reporter, before “hurling curses at the television.”

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