Relatives: Cuba Detains Dissidents Before Protest
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSDEC. 30, 2014, 5:04 P.M. E.S.T.
HAVANA — Cuban officials arrested at least three members of the
political opposition Tuesday ahead of a protest art performance seen as
the first major test of the government's tolerance for dissent since the
declaration of detente with the U.S.
Expatriate artist Tania Bruguera returned to Cuba Friday with plans to
set up an open microphone for anyone to speak on the Plaza of the
Revolution, a square overlooked by the president's office, military
headquarters and huge portraits of revolutionary heroes Che Guevara and
Hours before the planned performance, police arrested at least three
well-known dissidents and calls stopped going through to Bruguera's
cellphone. Her supporters said they did not know where she was and
police prevented an Associated Press reporter from approaching the door
of her Havana apartment.
By 4 p.m., an hour after the scheduled protest in the symbolic heart of
government authority, few people had appeared in the plaza.
Inside Cuba, where the rate of Internet usage is among the world's
lowest, few ordinary citizens appeared to know about Bruguera's plans in
the absence of state television, radio and newspaper coverage. Some
opposition members who did know about the event said beforehand that
they weren't certain about going because they saw it as unnecessarily
provocative. Others said authorities had warned them to stay away.
In the end, with Bruguera absent, the event failed to materialize as
The day's events appeared to be at least a short-term victory for the
government of Cuban President Raul Castro, who pledged this month that
the U.S.-Cuban detente both nations announced on Dec. 17 would not lead
to changes in the island's single-party system. Cuba's government has
long narrowly defined the bounds of acceptable speech, accusing many
dissidents of being agents of the U.S. government or right-wing exile
groups, and subjecting them to surveillance, temporary detention and
President Barack Obama pledged this month that easing the embargo on
Cuba and normalizing diplomatic relations would be a better way of
supporting Cuban civil society. Some experts said that lessening
U.S.-Cuban tensions would remove a pretext for repression of domestic
But Obama also said he was "under no illusion about the continued
barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans," and U.S. diplomats
cautioned about expecting major short-term changes.
"Freedom of expression remains core of US policy on Cuba; we support
activists exercising those rights and condemn today's detentions,"
Roberta Jacobson, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western
Hemisphere affairs, tweeted on Tuesday.
Dissident Antonio Rodiles told The AP by telephone that police were
taking him away around 12:30 p.m. The wife of Eliecer Avila, the
29-year-old head of moderate opposition group "Somos Mas," told the AP
he had also been arrested along with Reinaldo Escobar, husband of
renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez
Rodiles' group publicly supported Bruguera's performance plan. It wasn't
immediately clear if Escobar and Avila had planned to attend.
Avila had told the AP Monday that he was optimistic that the warming of
relations with Washington would lead to positive changes inside Cuba.
"In my case I am fully convinced that the new scenario can be positive
for civil society," he said.
Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.
Source: Relatives: Cuba Detains Dissidents Before Protest - NYTimes.com