Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obama toughens his stance over Cuba's crackdowns

Posted on Wednesday, 03.24.10

Obama toughens his stance over Cuba's crackdowns
The president censured Cuba's attacks on dissent as Gloria Estefan
prepared to lead a march Thursday in Miami's Little Havana to support
the Ladies in White.

President Barack Obama, in his harshest censure of Cuba's repression of
dissent, Wednesday said Havana had used ``a clenched fist'' against
``those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans.''

Obama also appeared to hint that his efforts to improve U.S. relations
with the Raúl Castro government have lost steam in the face of the
recent string of tough actions by Havana.

``During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out to
the Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relations
between the governments of the United States and Cuba,'' said a
four-paragraph statement released by the White House.

``I remain committed to supporting the simple desire of the Cuban people
to freely determine their future and to enjoy the rights and freedoms
that define the Americas,'' he added, making no mention of a similar
commitment to improved government-to-government relations.

The statement amounted to the president's harshest condemnation of Cuba
since he was inaugurated. Last spring, he eased U.S. restrictions on
Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba and launched bilateral
talks on immigration and direct mail service.

Obama's statement came a month after the death of political prisoner
Orlando Zapata following an 83-day hunger strike, and a week after
security forces and pro-government civilians violently broke up a march
in Havana by the Ladies in White, women relatives of jailed dissidents.

On Thursday in Miami, a five-block stretch of busy Calle Ocho will close
to traffic to make way for a march led by singer Gloria Estefan in
support of Cuba's Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White.

Participants are being asked to wear all white and march in silence to
show solidarity with the women, who traditionally do the same when they
peacefully protest for the jailing of their sons and husbands.

The Zapata and Ladies in White cases, ``and the intensified harassment
of those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans,
are deeply disturbing,'' the president said.

``These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to
enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the
aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,'' he added.

``Today, I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and a
growing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression,
for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in
Cuba, and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people.'' the
president declared.

The statement drew immediate praise from those who favor keeping tough
U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

``We thank President Obama for his statement in solidarity with the
Cuban people and his recognition of the increased repression by the
Cuban dictatorship,'' said a statement issued by Florida Republican
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart.

``Now more than ever it is time to demand international solidarity and
to increase assistance to the brave heroes who struggle for freedom and
democracy within Cuba,'' they said.

``With this statement he has chosen to side with Cuba's future, as
opposed to unconditionally embracing the regime that only represents its
repressive present and past,'' Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the
pro-sanctions U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee, wrote in
an e-mail to El Nuevo Herald.

Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla. and a Senate hopeful, said the president had
made it ``clear that the United States stands with the people of Cuba
who are not alone in their fight for freedom and justice.''

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