Relations may be warming at last between Washington and Havana, but that doesn't mean the Castro regime is suddenly upping its human-rights game simply to please Obama.
In fact, just yesterday, the Cuban government threw an estimated 90 protesters — many clad in black-and-white Barack Obama masks — into jail for marching against the government. The arrests are part of a larger crackdown in Havana ahead of John Kerry's historic trip to the capital city Friday to reopen the American embassy there.
"It's his fault, what is happening," a political prisoner named Angel Moya told an AFP reporter at the scene, referring to Obama. "The Cuban government has grown even bolder" as a result of the thawed relations, he said before Cuban police arrested him.
Photos from the scene show dozens of marchers — about half from the Ladies in White movement, according to reports from the scene — many wearing Obama masks.
"It’s Obama's fault what is happening. That’s why we have this mask on, because it’s his fault”, Angel Moya pic.twitter.com/tgOXPf3m7m— The Real Cuba (@therealcuba) August 10, 2015
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Midway through the protesters' march, security forces rounded up about 90 of the demonstrators and placed them under arrest, AFP reports.
The crackdown comes in a historic week between the Unites States and Cuba. When Kerry lands in Havana this Friday, he'll be the first American secretary of state to visit since 1945. When the embassy reopens, it will mark the first instance of U.S. diplomats working on Cuban soil in more than five decades.
But the arrests heighten the tension that Obama's government must deal with its move to normalize relations with the Castros. Will Kerry address human-rights abuses during his speech at the embassy? Will he meet with Ladies in White leaders to discuss the lack of free speech on the island?
It's a good bet he'll try to avoid both topics, but that could be increasingly difficult to do if mass arrests like Sunday's police action continue in the leadup to the embassy's reopening.