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LITTLE HAVANA (CBSMiami) — As President Barack Obama boarded Air Force One for Cuba Sunday, crowds marched in Miami’s Little Havana against the presidential visit to the communist nation.
Demonstrators rallied on S.W. 8th Street and 13th Avenue chanting, “Libertad!”
Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was at the march. A first generation Cuban-American running for U.S. Senate, Lopez-Cantera said the president’s visit to Cuba is a photo-op that the Castro regime set up to legitimize themselves — and, since easing U.S.-Cuba relations more than a year ago, nothing has changed.
“There hasn’t been any reduction of oppression,” Lopez-Cantera told CBS4’s Donna Rapado. “As as matter of fact, there’s been an increase in oppression, an increase in political arrests and an increase of political beatings against people who are simply seeking to have rights that we take for granted here in America. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free elections, the end of human rights violations and the release of political prisoners.”
In fact, just before Obama’s arrival, more than 50 demonstrators were arrested in the streets of Havana. They are “Las Damas de Blanco” — the Ladies in White. They are the wives and relatives of jailed anti-Castro activists who march to Mass each Sunday, as they have for nearly four years.
Video showing police pulling and dragging the women as they chanted for freedom only fueled the anger those against the president’s visit already feel.
“I hope tonight somebody talks to Obama about what happened in Havana today,” Angela Bueno de Godinez told Rapado. “That’s impossible. A disaster.”
Some say promises have not been kept.
“The president promised he would visit Cuba when changes were made toward human rights,” said activist Carlos Puig. “Changes have been made. For the worse.”
FIU professor of politics Eduardo Gamarra specializes in Cuban studies. He said the Ladies in White pre-visit arrests were bad p.r. for the Cubans. But he also explained, it changes nothing.
“If they were expecting some sort of good feelings about any kind of changes, at least in terms of human rights violations, this was not the right message to send,” explained Professor Gamarra. “And they could’ve handled it a lot differently. But again, their insistence is, ‘We are not going to change domestically because that’s not what we’re negotiating.’ To them, the most important thing is the lifting of the embargo.”
The professor also pointed out that when you look at national surveys about President Obama’s policy toward Cuba, there is largely a great amount of hope and support.
But change will take time. As in, many, many years.