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Cuban dissidents meet Obama to air grievances about Castro — and about new U.S. policy

Cuban dissidents meet Obama to air grievances about Castro — and about
new U.S. policy

The president sat down privately with 13 political activists
All appreciated the recognition
But some wanted more from him

BY PATRICIA MAZZEI AND NORA GAMEZ TORRES
pmazzei@miamiherald.com

HAVANA
President Barack Obama granted outspoken political dissidents of the
Cuban government the highest level of recognition they’ve ever received
in their own country, meeting privately with them Tuesday against the
wishes of the Castro regime.

Obama sat down with 13 dissidents and political activists behind closed
doors at the U.S. embassy for more than an hour and a half, several of
the attendees said, even though the gathering had been scheduled to last
only a half-hour. The president greeted each person around the
conference table by name, taking notes as they aired grievances about
Raúl Castro’s rule — and, in some cases, about Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy.

President Barack Obama meets with Cuban activists and dissidents on
Tuesday at the U.S. embassy in Havana White House pool photo
“President Obama’s goal was achieved, in terms of relaying a very clear
message of human recognition and moral support,” said Elizardo Sánchez,
the head of a human-rights group who was detained for several hours
Saturday when he returned home to Havana.

The White House insisted the meeting with the dissidents was never in
question. But when Secretary of State John Kerry failed to travel to
Cuba a couple of weeks ahead of the president, as had been expected,
Castro opponents feared an attempt was under way by the Cuban government
to dictate who could meet Obama.

After the regime detained more than 50 activists Sunday — including two
invited to Obama’s meeting — dissidents also worried government
authorities might keep them from showing up Tuesday.

The U.S. embassy picked up each of the 13 invitees at home Tuesday, and
later dropped them off one by one, to avoid any trouble.

The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald reached five dissidents by phone
after the meeting. All characterized it as a positive one, but Obama
didn’t change the minds of the most strident critics of reestablished
U.S.-Cuba relations — the ones with perhaps the tightest ties to Cuban
exiles in Miami.

“We were hoping for a clear condemnation of this situation we’re living
in,” said Antonio Rodiles, the head of a dissident group and one of the
people detained after protesting Sunday, the day Obama landed in Havana.

Instead, he and two other hard-liners — Berta Soler, leader of the
Ladies in White, and Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas — agreed to continue to
disagree with Obama’s approach, though they said they were grateful for
his support.

“In the end, we concluded that all of us want to empower Cuba, but some
of us want to do it one way and others another way,” Fariñas said.

Soler said she asked Obama to call for an amnesty for political
prisoners and to condition future negotiations with Castro on ending
“police violence” against dissidents.

“We told him it wasn’t the right time for him to come to Cuba, since he
said he’d come to Cuba if there had been advances in human rights” — and
a few hours before his arrival Sunday, “the whole world” saw the Ladies
in White detentions.

Still, for activists unaccustomed to civil dialogue with government
officials, a presidential meeting with differing points of view felt
like a sign of “maturity,” said Dagoberto Valdés, who runs the Catholic
magazine Convivencia.

The gathering began shortly after Obama concluded a landmark speech in
which he challenged the Cuban government to embrace democracy and open
up to the world.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and a backer
of Obama’s reengagement with the island, said he was the first dissident
to speak to the president, and he congratulated him on his remarks.

“The immense majority of Cubans are very grateful,” Ferrer said.

Also taking part in the meeting were rapper and ex-political prisoner
Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, known as El Crítico; lawyer Lartiza
Diversent; Manuel Cuesta Morúa, leader of another dissident group; LGBT
activists Juana Mora Cedeño and Nelson Álvarez Matute; and independent
journalists Miriam Celaya and Miriam Leiva.

Not participating was blogger Yoani Sánchez, who met instead with Deputy
National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and three other independent
journalists Tuesday at the embassy.

A group of about 50 people huddled catty-corner from the embassy — in
front of a plaza known as the “anti-imperialist grandstand” for Cubans
to protest Americans — to try to catch a glimpse of Obama. Reporters
hoped to see the dissidents. Neither the president nor his guests left
through the front door.

Daniel Llorente Miranda, 52, had seen Obama’s speech, which he praised
for being “very honest. And such great courage to speak the truth here,
in front of everyone.”

He wore the Cuban flag on a T-shirt — and wrapped himself in a huge
American one. None of the many police officers dared bother him.

The White House said these Cuban human-rights activists and dissidents
met with President Obama at the U.S. embassy in Havana on Tuesday.

Nelson Alvarez Matute — President of Afro-ACLU

Miriam Celaya Gonzales — Activist and independent journalist

Manuel Cuesta Morua — Member of Progressive Arc

Laritza Diversent — Member of Cubalex, a legal information center on
human-rights

Guillermo ‘Coco’ Fariñas — Former political prisoner, winner of Sakharov
Human Rights Prize

Jose Daniel Ferrer — Member of the Christian Liberation Movement and
Cuban Patriotic Union

Miriam Leiva Viamonte — Human-rights activist and independent journalist

Juana Mora Cedeño — Member of Alianza Mano, LGBT activist

Augel Yunier Remon — Dissident rapper known as ‘the Critic’

Antonio Rodiles — Coordinator of Estado de SATS

Elizardo Sanchez — Founder, Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation

Berta Soler — Leader of the Ladies in White

Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez — Catholic intellectual, editor and founder
of Vitral and Convivencia magazines.

Source: Cuban dissidents meet Obama to air grievances about Castro — and
about new U.S. policy | Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article67626962.html

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