Latin America & Caribbean

United States 'deeply concerned' by Cuba dissident arrests

Cuban artist Tania Bruguera Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The planned protest had been organised by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who was arrested on Tuesday

The United States has said it is deeply concerned about reports that several high-profile Cuban dissidents were detained on Tuesday.

Activists say police made the arrests hours ahead of a planned protest in Havana's Revolution Square.

Organisers said the protest was aimed at testing the tolerance of Cuba's communist government.

On 17 December, the US and Cuba announced they would normalise relations.

Despite the historic announcement, Washington said earlier today that it would "continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations".

"We strongly condemn the Cuban government's continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics," read the statement.

Open microphone protest

The crackdown was flagged up by Cuba's best-known dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, on Tuesday.

She posted on Twitter that her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and another dissident, Eliecer Avila, had been detained.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Yoani Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, run a opposition website in Havana
Image copyright AP
Image caption The Cuban government blames the US embargo for economic hardship on the island

Ms Sanchez, founder of opposition website Catorce y Medio, said she was briefly put under house arrest.

Mr Escobar, a senior editor at the website, was released after several hours in police custody.

They had been supporting an "open microphone" protest organised by performance artist Tania Bruguera.

Ms Bruguera was also detained on Tuesday, hours before the unauthorised event at Havana's Revolution Square.

She was briefly released earlier today, but rearrested after trying to hold a press conference in Havana's seaside avenue, the Malecon, according to the AFP news agency.

'Rigid outdated policy'

Opposition activist Elizardo Sanchez told AFP that 51 dissidents had been detained and that 15 remained in jail.

The arrests have not been confirmed by the Cuban authorities or reported by state media.

US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The two presidents announced the policy shift on live television from Havana and Washington DC
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Anti-Castro demonstrators in Miami protested against the proposed end of economic sanctions

On 17 December President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, made simultaneous announcements stating that they planned to normalise relations.

President Obama said the "rigid and outdated policy" of isolating Cuba since then had clearly failed and that it was time for a new approach.

Mr Castro, meanwhile, urged the US to end its trade embargo, which has been in place since Cuba turned to communism more than 50 years ago.

But the proposals to end the embargo still need to be approved by the US Congress, where they face strong opposition.

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