Cuban Political Police Crush Free Speech, Days After US Diplomatic Opening

Images from the first Havana edition of "Tatlin's Whisper"
Images from the first Havana edition of “Tatlin’s Whisper”

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 December 2014 – Those of us who participated in that first edition of Tatlin’s Whisper in Havana will never forget that minute of freedom in front of the microphone that would cost us years of official insults. The project to reenact the performance, but this time in the Plaza of the Revolution, invariably brought back to us memories of that night in the Wilfredo Lam center and the hope that this time the microphones would be open to a larger number of Cubans. I confess that I came to reflect on where it would be best to raise the podium, to place the actors dressed in olive-green who would regulate the time of each person’s speech, and how the white dove would look, fluttering over the shoulder of each orator.

On the eve of December 30 I talked with Tania Bruguera who, hoarse and exhausted, already felt the cage closing around her. All the signs pointed to their not allowing her to even reach the Plaza and the political police unleashing a wave of repression against those who wanted to accompany her. I ventured to describe three possible scenarios she might face: that they would not let her leave her home, or would arrest her; that they would let her get to the plaza which would be taken over by a last-minute popular festival with cheap beer, parades and loud music; that they would let her stage Tatlin’s Whisper, but fill the time at the microphone with voices shouting official slogans. There was no way to add to these variables one that would conclude with a chorus of plurality and tolerance making itself heard in front of the statue of José Martí.

In that conversation I told her that “The performance is already done; the artistic action achieved,” because with her project Bruguera had unveiled the framework of censorship, cultural cowardice and repression that immobilizes Cuban life. Many of her artist friends had declined to accompany her, some acquaintances had called on her to concede and move Tatlin’s Whisper to the interior some institution and others, more committed, had warned her that there was a plan to “abduct her from the Plaza.” From the early hours of the morning the macabre dance of arrests and intimidation began.

Ladies in White, activists, journalists and dissidents were jailed or blocked from leaving their homes. Many communicators had their cellphones cut off, text messaging cancelled and access to the government-operated Nauta email system restricted. In a whisper, information about what was happening began to surface. The 14ymedio team suffered a hard blow, with two reporters and a contributing writer arrested and our press office under a police operation for hours. The list of the jailed was growing and as communications began to work again we started calling each other to keep ourselves up-to-date.

But the whisper turned into Tatlin’s cry. One that is now heard through the phone lines, on Twitter, outside the police stations, where family members demand to spend the last day of the year with their loved ones. There is no microphone, no white dove, no one minute of freedom, but rather long hours of suffering and uncertainty.

Tania, among all the scenarios we projected, we missed this one. You in jail and from there, dressed in the gray uniform of an inmate, you performed the most devastating and unforgettable of all your artistic actions. The Plaza is today in each one of us.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.

"No, We Have No Illusions That It Will Be Easy"

Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)
Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 20 December 2014 — Since December 17, Cuba has not been the same. Discussions, questions and expectations have multiplied among us since the announcement from Barack Obama and Raul Castro about the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. We citizens have a lot of questions about the process and its influence on the future of our country.

Tom Malinowski, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has responded to some of these questions for 14ymedio. Today we present his answers to our readers.

Sanchez: The US has announced several measures to ease its policy towards Cuba. During the negotiations has the Cuban government shown a list of measures it is willing to implement?

Malinowski: It is important to note that the measures announced by President Obama were not things he has asked of Cuban government. They have been steps we would like to take to empower the Cuban people.

The objective is to strengthen the possibility that the people themselves can change the public policies of the Cuban government through greater access to resources and information, as well as to improve the quality of life for Cuban citizens who have lived with unnecessary social, economic and political restrictions imposed by the government.

The Cuban government has indicated that it will release 53 political prisoners, an important first step for us, and it will also allow its people greater access to the internet. We have no illusions that it will be easy, but we feel that now we have an opportunity and we will be pushing hard.

Q: Do you think President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba in the coming months? Would it not be against the embargo?

R: President Obama has said that from now on senior US government officials will visit Cuba. Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for the Americas, will be responsible for the delegation that will travel to Havana in January 2015 for the round of negotiations about migration between the United States and Cuba. Secretary of State John Kerry has also said that he hopes to be the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba.

With regards to the embargo, US law prohibits certain transactions with agencies of the Cuban government. President Obama announced several modifications to the rules to facilitate the flow of resources and information to the Cuban people. In any case, visits of high officials will be part of the new diplomatic relationship between our countries.

Q: Has legalization and an opening for a free and independent press in Cuba been among the topics discussed by the two governments?

A: Yes. A key focus of our policy will be to support civil society so that every Cuban can have the right to freedom of expression, association, assembly and the press. We will insist on these reforms in our meetings with the Cuban government working together with other countries in Latin American and Europe.

We will continue to implement programs financed by the United States Congress to support fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press and the free flow of information. The changes announced by President Obama eliminate one of the pretexts used by the Cuban government to persecute citizens who work to guarantee that the people have more freedoms. Now the focus of attention will not be on US policy toward Cuba, but on the policies of the Cuban government itself.

Q: Is there a schedule with already defined timelines to put into effect the measures announced on 17 December? And if so, when will it be made public?

A: President Obama wants to streamline the process so that the vision he presented in his speech is implemented as soon as possible The Secretary of State and all the members of president’s cabinet understand the urgency that exists to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new measures. The changes in our regulations to increase travel and trade will happen very quickly; the normalization of relations will depend on the Cuban government and also that of the United States. This issue will be discussed by the Undersecretary of State Roberta Jacobson in January.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.

Goliath Opens His Wallet: A New Era for Cuba and the United States

Havana, Cuba. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press (Taken from the New York Times)
Havana, Cuba. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press (Taken from the New York Times)

[From the New York Times] HAVANA — In one of my earliest memories, I am in a schoolyard before a campfire. The kids are screaming and jumping around it while the teacher stokes the flames, where a ridiculous Uncle Sam puppet is burning. This image came to mind on Wednesday, as I listened to the speeches of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama about the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

Generations of Cubans have grown up under the barrage of official propaganda against the United States. As the words directed against our neighbor to the north became more aggressive, our curiosity only grew. Overwhelmed by material precariousness, disillusioned because the so-called Raúl reforms have failed to fill their wallets or their plates, Cubans now dream of the material respite that might arrive from the other side of the Florida Straits. Without a fight, David, smiling, walks toward Goliath, who is about to open his bag of coins. The myth of the enemy is over; the difficult reality of coexistence has begun.

Sara is a teacher I know at an elementary school in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. Without the help sent by her daughter every month she couldn’t survive. “Now everything will be easier, especially because we’ll be able to use American credit and debit cards here and my daughter is thinking of sending me one so I can get a little help whenever I need it,” she said.

Sara has decorated her classroom with a poster that includes images of the “Cuban Five,” spies whom the official propaganda considers heroes. (The Americans released the last three of them as part of a swap for a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence.) “They are back, so we will have to change the bulletin board,” she said with excitement and relief.

Bonifacio Crespo helps a brother with accounting for their private restaurant in Havana. They already have a new business plan. “We have the contacts to start importing raw materials, spices and many products for the menu, all we need is for them to expand the sending of packages from over there,” he said, his finger pointing toward a cardinal point he believed was north.

José Daniel Ferrer, a dissident, said that Havana had lost its “alibi” for political repression and economic control, and the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) welcomed the news, but other dissidents worry that the government has yet to specify what it will do.

The tension between the two governments lasted so long that now some people don’t know what to do with their slogans, their fists raised against imperialism and their sick tendency to justify everything, from droughts to repression, on the grounds of being so close to “the most powerful country in the world.” The worst off are the most recalcitrant members of the Communist Party, those who would die before chewing a stick of gum, drinking a Coke or setting foot in Disney World. The first secretary of their organization just betrayed them. He made a pact with the adversary, behind the scenes and over 18 long months.

On Thursday, the party newspaper, Granma, was slow to reach the newsstands. Sometimes it is delayed when Fidel Castro publishes one of his delirious articles about the immensity of the galaxy or the memory of Hugo Chávez. In the long minutes of waiting, many speculated that Granma would arrive with some reflection from the comandante, but there was nothing. No evidence that would let us know whether he is for or against the risky step just taken by his brother. Many have read this silence as a sign of his delicate state of health, but by saying nothing, he has confirmed his political death, which is even more revealing and symbolic than his physical death will be.

Representatives of civil society do not want the United States to “extend a blank check” to the longest-standing totalitarian regime in the Western Hemisphere unless four demands are met.

First is the immediate release of political prisoners — there are over 100, Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates. Second is the ratification of United Nations human rights covenants. Third is the dismantling of the apparatus of repression: shameful assaults on so-called counterrevolutionaries, arbitrary arrests, demonization and intimidation of those who think differently and police surveillance of activists.

Finally, the Cuban government must accept the existence of civic structures that have the right to express opinions, decide, question and choose — voices that have not been represented in the current negotiations between the governments of Cuba and the United States. The road map drawn by the higher-ups has been hidden from us.

An opportunity has been offered, despite the valid criticisms of many who question whether Uncle Sam has conceded too much, while his counterpart was too stingy to offer meaningful political gestures. Civil society must take advantage of it, elevate its voice, test the new limits of repression and censorship.

Everyone is experiencing this change in his or her own way: Sara, dreaming of her new debit card; Bonifacio, who speculates about the dishes he’ll be able to include on his menu with new imported ingredients; José Daniel Ferrer, who hopes to increase activism in the eastern part of the country. For everyone, a new era has begun. We cannot confirm that it will be better, but at least it will be different.

Yoani Sánchez, a blogger, is the director of 14ymedio, an independent digital news outlet in Cuba. This essay was translated by Mary Jo Porter from the Spanish.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 19, 2014, on page A35 of the New York edition of the New York Times with the headline: Goliath Opens His Wallet.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.

Has D-Day Arrived for Cuba?

Telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. (White House)
Telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. (White House)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 December 2014 — Today has been one of those days we imagine a thousand ways, but never as it finally happened. You prepare for a date on which you can celebrate the end, hug your friends who return home, wave a flag in the middle of the street, but D-Day is late. Instead, events arrive in fragments, an advance here, a loss there. With no cries of “Long live free Cuba,” nor uncorked bottles. Life obscures from us this turning point that we would mark forever on our calendars.

The announcement by the governments of Cuba and the United States of the reestablishments of diplomatic relations surprises us in the midst of signs that pointed in the opposite direction, and also of exhausted hopes. Raúl Castro just postponed the third round of talks with the European Union, scheduled for next month, and this December 10 repression fell heavily on activists, as it does every International Human Rights Day.

The first surprise was that, in the midst of the official bluster, of a certain turn of the ideological screw expressed in calls to redouble our guard against the enemy, the Plaza of the Revolution and the White House had been in talks for 18 months. Clear evidence that all this discourse of intransigence was just for show. While they made the island’s citizens believe that even to cross the threshold of the United States Interest Section in Havana turned them into traitors to the homeland, the leaders in their olive-green were working out agreements with Uncle Sam. The deceits of politics!

On the other hand, both Obama’s statements, as well as Castro’s, had a hint of capitulation. The US president announced a long list of moderating measures to bring the two nations closer, before the coveted and greatly demanded steps of democratization and political opening in our country would be achieved. The dilemma of what should have come first, a gesture from Havana or flexibility from Washington, has just been answered. However, the fig leaf of the American embargo remains, so that no one can say the resignation as been complete.

Raul Castro, for his part, limited himself to announcing the new gestures from Obama and referring to the exchange of Alan Gross and other prisoners of interest of the American government. However, in his address before the national television cameras, he gave no evidence of any agreement or compromise from the Cuban side, aside from the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. The agenda on the far side of the Florida Straits we know in detail, but the internal one remains, as it so often does, hidden and secret.

Still, despite the absence of public commitments on the part of Cuba, today was a political defeat. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro we would have never even reached an outline of an agreement of this nature. Because the Cuban system is supported by — as one of its main pillars — the existence of a permanent rival. David can’t live without Goliath and the ideological apparatus has depended too long on this dispute.

Do I listen to speeches or buy fish?

In the central market of Carlos III, customers were surprised midday that the big TVs were not broadcasting football or videoclips, but a speech by Raúl Castro and later one by Obama through the Telesur network. The first allocution caused a certain astonishment, but the second was accompanied by kisses launched toward the face of the US president, particularly when he mentioned relaxations in the sending of remittances to Cuba and the delicate topic of telecommunications. Now and again the cry of “I LOVE…” (in English!) could be heard from around the corner.

It is important to also say that the news had fierce competition, like the arrival of fish to the rationed market, after years of disappearance. However, by mid-afternoon almost everyone was aware and the shared feelings were of joy, relief, hope.

This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.

The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; the end of political repression; the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws; and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island. Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.

As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to think that the day we have longed for is not close. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day.

14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.

Alan Gross, the Hook That Ended Up Being Swallowed

Demonstrations demanding the release of Alan Gross
Demonstrations demanding the release of Alan Gross

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 December 2014 – With the pessimism that has now become chronic in our society, many Cubans thought that Alan Gross would only leave Cuba, “in a box,” in an image allusive of a fatal outcome. The stubbornness shown by the Cuban government in its relations with the United States didn’t presage a short-term solution for the contractor. This Wednesday, however, he has been exchanged for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, bringing to a close a long and complicated political chapter for both parties.

Gross was only useful alive and his health was rapidly deteriorating. And Raul Castro knew this very well. Hence, in recent months he raised the decibels around the proposed exchange for the agent Antonio Guerrero and the officials Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, all serving long sentences in the prisons of our neighbor to the north. To the extent that the 65-year-old contractor grew thin and lost his vision, official campaigns grew increasingly insistent about the exchange. When Gross threatened to kill himself, the alarms if the island’s government went off and the negotiating schedule accelerated. Continue reading

Jeb Bush Declines Invitation From Immigration Hard-Liner Steve King

MIAMI (AP) — Separating himself from much of the emerging Republican presidential field, Jeb Bush has declined an invitation to speak at a political event organized by one of Congress’ most strident immigration critics.

A Bush aide said Wednesday that the former Florida governor appreciated the invite from Republican congressman Steve King but would not be able to attend the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24 because of a scheduling conflict.

More than a half-dozen potential Republican presidential contenders are set to appear, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Bush’s absence is notable because of King’s status as a conservative power broker in Iowa, home of the nation’s first presidential caucuses.

Bush is one of the GOP’s most vocal advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. King generally opposes such efforts.

Cuba: A New Year’s Present

When I joined UPI in 1953, we were servicing two Cuban television stations and Cuba was still ruled by Fulgencio Batista, a former army sergeant who had seized power in 1933. By 1956, he was partnering with the mob, including Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano who ran narcotics, gambling and most importantly the gambling casinos in Havana.

Batista had also made a fortune from payoffs by major American companies who provided Cubans with services ranging from telephone calls to electricity.

On January 1, 1959, and I, as a new-boy, was working on the desk at UP/Movietone, when we got word that Batista was fleeing Havana. Then I called my boss, Bill Higginbotham, to ask him what to do. He laughed and told me not to worry: Movietone’s cameraman had fled the country with Batista and was arriving in Florida with film of Batista’s departure. The film came in that afternoon, we developed it, cut it and shipped it the same day and beat the rest of the world on the story.

Shortly thereafter, Castro and his guerrillas arrived in Havana and took over the government. Charley Schuman, a UPI reporter and cameraman, who had just returned from covering Castro, called him and asked if this success was a Communist revolution. Castro said no — “Ours is a special kind of revolution. It is political, not social. It is not a revolution of class against class, but of all social classes against the government — against a small army group.” Castro emphatically denied that their revolution “has anything to do with Communism.” Nevertheless, over the course of the next year, he nationalized all of Cuba’s private companies, including American corporations. He also confiscated real estate and other assets that had been acquired by American citizens.

When John F. Kennedy became president, one of the first things he did, according to a friend of mine who had joined the Treasury Department in a relatively high position, was offer Castro a deal — if Castro would repay American citizens and corporations for the assets that had been acquired “legally” (no payoffs to anyone), the United States would recognize the Cuban government.

Kennedy knew that most of the assets had been acquired through graft and payoffs to various Cuban officials; Castro would probably have had to make very few payments to Americans. Nevertheless, according to my source, Castro refused and on April 17, 1961, the U.S. invaded Cuba — the “Bay of Pigs” ended in disaster and fifty-four years of mutual hostility survived.

On November 30, 1961, President Kennedy launched Operation Mongoose whose major task was the assassination of Castro and the CIA.

In October ’62, Americans took to their bomb shelters as the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened mutual destruction of all involved: Cubans, Americans and Russians.

In 1963, the Kennedy brothers were still attempting to assassinate Castro. Working with the Mafia, the CIA developed plans ranging from planting a box of explosive cigars to exposing him to poisoned pens, or even poisoned ice cream.

Somehow Castro managed to survive it all and has lived to see another American president recognize a Cuba that is still ruled by the Castro brothers. January 1 marks the fifty-sixth anniversary of Battista’s overthrow and is a holiday that can now be celebrated by Cubans and Americans alike.

Man Who Says He Was Beaten By Cops And Jailed On False Charges Walks Free

A Long Island, New York, man who said he was severely beaten by police and jailed for months on false charges was cleared of wrongdoing in court last week and is a free man once again.

“It’s truly a holiday miracle,” Willian Guillen’s lawyer, Karen Bobley, told The Huffington Post.

On Dec. 22, Nassau County District Court Judge Sharon Gianelli found Guillen, 33, not guilty on all charges — misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest as well as harassing a police officer — brought against him by the Nassau County District Attorney’s office. Guillen originally faced felony charges, but those had been reduced before trial.

“The law does not require the police to always be right,” Gianelli said in delivering her verdict, but it does require them to “be reasonable.”

Nassau County police had alleged that Guillen engaged in a drug transaction on March 23 with Neptali Robles, a fellow chef at the Peruvian restaurant Millenium Chicken in Hicksville, New York. Officers, who had been staking out the restaurant over complaints of drug-related incidents, said they saw Guillen throw a plastic bag of cocaine into the street as he ran from them. But surveillance video from outside the restaurant does not show the alleged drug deal, and no cocaine was recovered from the scene.

Guillen — who Bobley said has no criminal history — has maintained his innocence throughout. He said that when he and Robles finished work around midnight, they walked to a nearby restaurant for takeout food. While they waited for their order of pupusas, he said they stopped to say hello to a friend at another restaurant and dashed into a convenience store for an errand.

According to Guillen, that’s when two men came running and yelling from a dark street corner about a block away. Guillen, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, has worked as a chef in the U.S. for more than a decade, but he understands little English. Thinking he was about to be robbed, he said he ran back toward the restaurant where he had ordered his food, hollering to another group of men outside to call the police.

The men coming from the street corner, as well as those in front of the restaurant, were members of an undercover unit of the Nassau County Police Department. According to a complaint that Bobley filed with the Justice Department, the FBI and several assistant U.S. attorneys — as well as President Barack Obama and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — the officers tackled Guillen, handcuffed him and beat him. They dragged him across the pavement and repeatedly stomped his head, according to the complaint.

Guillen’s ordeal did not end there, according to Bobley. In her complaint seeking a federal investigation of police conduct in the case, she said that Guillen was taken to a police holding facility, where officers allegedly forced Guillen to undress and then beat him again. The officers laughed at Guillen, called him names and tried to kick him in his genitals as he lay on the floor, the complaint says. They stomped his thigh so forcefully that the bone was exposed, according to the complaint.

Guillen was hospitalized for days with multiple broken ribs, bruises, abrasions and swelling all over his body. Toxicology tests were negative for all substances, including alcohol.

Meanwhile, Robles had been released on bail the day after his arrest, and the charges against him were eventually dismissed.

Guillen was later transferred to the Nassau County Correctional Center, where he has been jailed for nearly nine months awaiting possible deportation.

But he was able to walk out of that jail cell just hours after the judge’s ruling.

“There is no further threat of deportation,” Bobley said to HuffPost. She said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents “came to the jail right after the verdict and did not hold him. He was asked only if he has an immigration lawyer, and when he said yes, they told him he could go home.”

Bobley said that HuffPost’s original story on Guillen “helped set a lot of this in motion.”

Though Guillen has now been found not guilty, his lawyer still hopes the Justice Department will investigate Guillen’s beating, as it did recently in the case of a man beaten by police in Santa Ana, California.

If Guillen were to be certified as a material witness in such a federal investigation, he could be eligible for a U visa, a special status granted to immigrants who are victims of a crime and cooperating with law enforcement. Bobley said that a U visa is already in the works for Guillen, but that it can take up to a year for approval.

The Nassau County Police Department declined to comment about the judge’s ruling or the incident. A spokesperson from the Nassau County District Attorney’s office said that the case has been sealed and that the office cannot discuss it further.

Some Cuba Dissidents Freed After New Crackdown

By Daniel Trotta and Daniel Wallis

HAVANA, Dec 31 (Reuters) – Cuba freed some leading dissidents on Wednesday after holding them overnight to thwart an unauthorized demonstration in a crackdown that has tested its detente with the United States.

Police detained several dissidents on Tuesday and kept others under virtual house arrest ahead of an open microphone protest that was to have taken place outside government headquarters in Havana’s Revolution Square.

The detentions were typical of how Cuba breaks up opposition protests but took on greater significance as they came just two weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would restore diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of prominent dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, was released late on Tuesday night.

Tania Bruguera, a performance artist who organized the event and was held for more than 24 hours, was returned home on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m not doing this as a dissident, I’m doing it as a normal person,” she told Reuters from her mother’s apartment overlooking the sea in her first interview after being freed.

“I’m not a counterrevolutionary, like they say. I’m from a revolutionary family. … I’m going to continue the project.”

Cuba’s communist government had labeled the event a “political provocation” and denied Bruguera a permit.

The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said more than 50 Cubans were detained and that about 15 of them were still being held on Wednesday afternoon.

“At the same the Cuban government is normalizing its relations with the U.S. government, it has not decided to normalize relations with the people of Cuba,” said Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the commission.

“We don’t think there will a cause-and-effect relationship between renewing diplomatic relations with the United States and an improvement of human rights in Cuba.”

Cuban officials do not reveal information about police activity, and Reuters could not verify the numbers of detentions.

Obama’s policy shift on Cuba has drawn some opposition inside the United States, led by Cuban-American senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez.

They both criticized Obama anew after the detentions in Havana, saying Cuba now has even less incentive to improve its human rights record and asking how the president would respond.

The U.S. State Department condemned the Cuban actions but gave no indication that they would derail a high-level visit to Havana in January for talks on restoring diplomatic ties.

More stumbling blocks could be expected.

“Obama and Castro are now partners in a way, and they have to be proactive if they want to prevent the spoilsports from taking control of the agenda,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst who is now a U.S.-based academic.

He said opponents in Cuba and the United States “are acting together.”

Obama has said Cubans should not face harassment or arrest for expressing their views, and that Washington will continue to monitor human rights on the island.

Castro has applauded Obama for changing U.S. policy but says Cuba will not change its one-party system.

He also warned two weeks ago that “virulent critics,” including Cuban-Americans in the U.S. Congress and Cuban exiles, would “do everything possible to sabotage the process, without ruling out provocative actions of any kind.”

Under the deal with the United States, Cuba agreed to release 53 people described by Washington as political prisoners, but they have not yet been freed and dissidents complain they do not even know who is on the list. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Daniel Wallis and Rosa Tania Valdés; Editing by Kieran Murray)