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Cuba Dissident Says He Gave Obama Political Prisoner List

Cuba Says He Gave Obama List
Alberto Pimienta
March 22, 2016 6:00 PM

In a small, white room of the newly opened United States embassy in
Havana, the simple exchange of a document summed up the significance of
a meeting between Barack Obama and 13 Cuban dissidents.

“Do you have a copy of the list?” Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz says the
president asked him.

“Sure, I have it here,” Sánchez Santacruz reports he respectfully responded.

“Can you give me one?” the president replied.

“And then I gave it to him,” Sánchez Santacruz told VOA.

The list Obama received from the dissident contained the names of 89
political prisoners.

Sánchez Santacruz, the president of the Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation, gave the list to the U.S. leader
when Sánchez Santacruz brought up the moment when Cuban President Raul
Castro, almost agitated, responded to the inquiry of an American
reporter at a rare press conference Monday about political prisoners on
the island. Castro stated there are no political prisoners in Cuba.

“Show me the list,” Castro said. “What political prisoners? Give me a name!”

“This is not news. There have always been [political prisoners] and the
government of Cuba has always said there are not,” Sánchez Santacruz
told VOA minutes after meeting with Obama in the embassy.

Discussion among ‘persons’

Dissidents present in the hour-and-fifteen-minute meeting told VOA the
discussion with Obama was “frank, relaxed and open.”

“[Obama] made clear that U.S. politics are committed to ,
fundamental liberties and that the basic steps that are being taken are
in the right direction to empower the Cuban people and to create a
bigger number of spaces so people can express themselves,” said Manuel
Cuesta Morúa, leader of the organization Progressive Spectrum in Cuba.

At least two of the dissidents in the meeting were as recently
as Sunday. For years, they said, they have been abused by the Cuban
regime. For them, the occasion was validation after years of struggle.

“The message it sends is that the other voices in Cuba, we, the ones
that fight for democracy and , are voices that have support and
that we are legitimate voices in the political debate,” said Cuesta Morúa.

Sánchez Santacruz added that Obama wanted to deliver “a message of human
acknowledgment and moral support.” He said the message was in defiance
of the Castro government that “keeps on treating us as if we aren’t

Opposing rapprochement

While some are very excited with the diplomatic reset, other dissidents
think the new policy from the Obama administration will legitimize the
communist government. Three out of the 13, according to interviews with
dissidents in the meeting, expressed to Obama, face to face, that they
are against the new détente.

“He answered that he disagreed. He said that one can’t expect an
immediate result,” said Cuesta Morúa. “He used the example of Myanmar,
where rapprochement led to the opening of the political system,” he added.

Miriam Leiva, an and one of the 13 invitees, said
“[Obama] was very respectful. He listened to them and by the end of the
meeting he explained his opinion but only to let them know that he was
aware of the situation in Cuba.”

“He thinks his policy is going to help the Cuban society and that
changes don’t come overnight,” Leiva added.

No positive change

During the meeting, some dissidents also wanted to inform Obama that
after his announcement on December, 2014, not much changed positively
for Cubans on the island. Goods are harder to find, unemployment has
increased and access to the has not been expanded.

“I think many of us said that changes are not as fast as we could expect
because the Cuban government is preventing his measures from getting to
the people and have more impact,” said Leiva.

And while the dissidents agreed the meeting is historic and gives them
validity and support in the face of what they call a “repressive
regime,” the censorship won’t stop.

“I don’t think this will make the Cuban government change its posture of
intolerance and its tendency to repression and intimidation to the
dissident movement and against all society,” sighed Sánchez Santacruz.
“Sadly, that won’t change.”

Source: Cuba Dissident Says He Gave Obama Political List –

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