When it comes to foreign affairs, Obama is reading straight from State and Defense Department scripts and all he adds is the bravado. Obama intends to make his mark on domestic issues. If asked an in-depth question about Cuba, he couldn’t answer it. Yet, as the President of the US, when he speaks, it’s as if a lion has roared.
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama slammed Cuba for its continued political and human rights repression and called for an end to the Communist regime’s “clenched fist” policy against its people.
Recent events, including the death of a hunger striker and crackdowns on protesters, “underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,” Obama said in some of his toughest words against Havana since taking office 14 months ago.
“I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and a growing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression, for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba, and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people,” he added.
Obama took office in early 2009 pledging to seek improved ties with the only Communist government in the Americas, and reportedly sought to urge President Raul Castro to step up efforts to improve relations with Washington.
Last month Obama sent his highest-ranking envoy yet to Havana to hold fresh talks on migration issues.
But on Wednesday the US leader described recent events, including the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata, crackdowns against female protesters known as Las Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White), and “intensified harassment” of other activists as “deeply disturbing.”
“During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out to the Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba,” he said in the statement.
“I remain committed to supporting the simple desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their future and to enjoy the rights and freedoms that define the Americas, and that should be universal to all human beings.”
Cuba has been shaken by the international outcry at Zapata’s death and Havana’s handling of the Ladies in White, some of whom were earlier this month manhandled and forcibly removed from the streets as international media looked on.
Both Zapata and Las Damas de Blanco were protesting the treatment of political prisoners, some of whom are reportedly in very poor health.
Cuba insists it keeps no political prisoners, only “mercenaries’ in the pay of the United States.
Zapata’s protest did not end with his death on February 24. The following day, dissident leader Guillermo Farinas took up his cause, refused food and water to protest the treatment of 26 political prisoners in need of medical attention.
Farinas was taken to a local hospital from his home in Santa Clara, 280 kilometers (168 miles) east of Havana, after he passed out on March 11, and is being fed intravenously.
The Cuban government deems Farinas “an agent of the United States” and his protest “blackmail,” and has said he would be “entirely responsible” for his own fate should he die.