HAVANA TIMES — US president Barack Obama met in Havana today with a varied group of Cuban dissidents and members of civil society. He praised them for their “extraordinary courage”, on the last day of his historic visit to Cuba, reported dpa news.
“All these people around this table have shown extraordinary courage,” Obama said during his meeting with dissidents and civil society at the US embassy on the Havana Malecon, a day after the president of Cuba, Raul Castro, denied there were political prisoners.
Obama said that some of them have concerns about “democracy, freedom of speech, worship or assembly or have advocated for democratic practices here in Cuba”. He recalled that some of them have been arrested “in the past and others very recently.”
“My hope is that we continue to fine tune our policy so that ultimately Cubans are able to live free and prosper,” added the president.
“It often requires a lot of courage to be active in the civil society here in Cuba,” said Obama, who added that “this is an area in which we continue to have profound differences” with the Cuban government said.
Obama spoke of the importance of listening “directly” to the Cuban people to hear what they think about the process of normalization of relations with Cuba, eight months after formally resuming bilateral relations.
The meeting with Obama was attended by dissidents and leaders of the Cuban civil society, including Antonio Rodiles, Berta Soler, Guillermo Farinas and Elizardo Sanchez Coco.
Also present were Cedeno Juana Mora, Jose Daniel Ferrer Laritza Diversent, Dagoberta Valdes Hernandez, Nelson Matute Alvarez, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Miriam Leiva Viamonte, said White House sources.
Antonio Rodiles and the leader of the opposition group Ladies in White, Berta Soler, did not attend the meeting in August 2015 when Secretary of State John Kerry met with dissidents in Cuba, but on this occasion they attended the meeting with Obama.
The US president had already met some of the dissidents and members of civil society in Miami and another in Panama. At the Summit of the Americas, Obama saw Cuban dissidents Manuel Cuesta Morua and Laritza Diversent during a meeting with a dozen Latin American activists.
After Castro denied on Monday at the joint press conference that there are political prisoners in Cuba, opposition groups such as the Cuban Democratic Directorate issued a “partial list” with the name of Cubans who are currently serving lengthy prison sentences for political reasons on the island.
The Directorate said Monday that “it is the Castro dictatorship that best knows who are the Cubans imprisoned for political reasons, because it is the dictatorship which has imprisoned them, being then the only one who truly knows the precise numbers of political prisoners in Cuba”.
According to the Cuban Democratic Directorate, in this partial list are the names of 51 political prisoners.
“In order to compile a truly comprehensive list, we challenge the Castro dictatorship to allow a fact-finding visit by the International Red Cross to visit Cuban prisons, a process that the Castro dictatorship has refused to allow since 1989,” recalled the Cuban Democratic Directorate in a statement.
Castro responded to a journalist at the press conference on Monday, who asked him about political prisoners, demanding she submit a list of names for him to proceed to release them that very night.