Cuba Begins to Re-Imprison Political Dissidents ‘Freed’ Under Obama Deal

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The Cuban government has re-arrested almost all of the 53 political prisoners released in January as part of its “normalization” with President Obama, according to Senator Marco Rubio. The news comes as Cuban police assault and detain dozens of dissidents in anticipation of International Human Rights Day, December 10.

Cuba announced the release of this prisoners of conscience on January 12, though the government did not give out a list of names. The prisoners were allegedly released gradually in the month before, following President Obama’s announcement that he would seek to warm relations between the United States and the rogue regime.

Shortly after the announcement, Fox News reported that two of the 53 dissidents had been arrested once again. The list of names was not yet public, but had been given to members of Congress, who denounced the arrests. One dissident, Ronaldo Reyes Rabanal, was temporarily detained, beaten, and released, while Luís Enrique Labrador remained behind bars for some time longer. They were the second and third of the group the receive this treatment; Marecelino Abreu Bonora, one of the 53 dissidents, was rearrested on December 26, weeks before the announcement of these “releases.”

 Sen. Rubio’s social media message Wednesday alerted the media to the case of Vladimir Morera Bacallao y Jorge Ramírez Calderón, who are both currently in prison after being released as part of the Cuban government’s publicity stunt. Bacallao, according to the dissident group the Cuban Democratic Directorate, is currently undergoing a hunger strike after being arrested and sentenced to four years in prison for hanging an anti-Castro sign out of his window. Ramírez Calderón is currently serving two and a half years in prison for having marched in silence as part of a protest against the Cuban government.

While both men were sentenced last month and are serving long sentences, the more common method the Cuban government uses to repress dissidents is to repeatedly temporarily detain them, allow them to claim they have fewer political prisoners in their jail cells while also limiting the activities of these dissidents consistently. During Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba in September, for example, more than 250 Cuban dissidents were detained and freed shortly after Pope Francis left, so as to prevent them from organizing any protest against the government. Dissident groups such as the Ladies in White – a group consisting of the female relatives of political prisoners – suffer weekly or even more often temporary detention. The Ladies in White, a mostly Catholic group, are typically arrested after attending Sunday Mass.

On Thursday, International Human Rights Day, the Ladies in White took to the streets from the early morning hours to demand justice for those imprisoned due to their rejection of communism:

The group organized the rally despite facing harassment beginning yesterday, as the government blocked their headquarters with red tents and communist propaganda for a pro-communist party to occur today. The women would have to walk through a pro-Castro rally to get to their established location for the march, requiring them to confront often-violent Castro supporters.

In addition to indirect harassment of dissidents, a major leader within the Cuban Patriotic Union, another dissident group, was arrested on Tuesday. In addition to confiscating most of Yoandris Gamboa’s computer materials, Cuban police reportedly beat his mother hard enough to hospitalize her, as well as attacking other members of his family who were present.

Yet dissidents continue to protest. Following word of the Ladies in White protest today, another prominent dissident announced that he would repeat the action that put him in jail. Danilo Maldonado Machado, an artist known as “El Sexto,” vowed to once again paint the names of Raúl and Fidel Castro on two pigs and set them loose in Havana, the stunt that landed him in jail for more than six months. “I can’t stop doing what I do,” he told reporters, “If they arrest me, let them do their job and I will do mine.”


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