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    Cuban dissidents shaken by U.S. rapprochement, seek new tactics

    Cuban dissidents shaken by U.S. rapprochement, seek new tactics
    HAVANA Tue Dec 23, 2014 12:21pm EST

    (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s decision to end five decades of
    enmity with Cuba has shaken the island’s political dissidents, dividing
    their ranks and forcing them to rethink tactics.

    Throughout the Cold War and beyond, the United States relied on the
    small dissident movement to lead domestic opposition to Cuba’s communist
    government and keep track of human rights abuses.

    So after Obama last week tore up the tough, decades-old policy aimed at
    crippling Cuba, some dissidents feel betrayed and unsure of their
    movement, which infuriates the government and has limited public support.

    The United States will still encourage Cubans to push for more political
    rights but it now has its own direct channel to President Raul Castro’s
    government, raising uncertainty about the dissidents’ future value to
    the Americans.

    While some dissident leaders welcomed the policy shift for stripping
    Cuba’s government of excuses for economic shortages and strict political
    control, others complained the deal was negotiated without their
    knowledge and against their will.

    “President Obama has made a mistake,” said Berta Soler, leader of
    the Ladies in White, a largely Roman Catholic group that has protest
    marches each Sunday. “This is going to benefit the Cuban government,
    strengthening and equipping its repressive machine.”

    While her group was marching on the streets, enduring harassment and
    detention, the U.S. government was engaged in secret talks with Havana
    over the past 18 months.

    Guillermo Fariñas, who was detained like clockwork at 38 consecutive
    weekly protests outside his home this year in the city of Santa Clara,
    was even more blunt.

    “I feel betrayed,” said Fariñas, who was bothered by the secrecy of the
    talks and said the views of dissidents were discounted. “I know some
    people are offended by that word, but I use it on purpose.”

    Fariñas was in the minority during a landmark meeting of 29 dissidents
    from across Cuba who gathered for 10 hours on Monday at the office of
    14ymedio, the news and opinion website of prominent blogger Yoani Sanchez.

    Soler did not attend. Other senior dissident leaders either welcomed
    Obama’s policy shift or accepted it as a reality beyond their control.

    In a joint statement, they applauded the prisoner swap that allowed the
    release of U.S. foreign aid worker Alan Gross and more than 50
    unidentified Cuban prisoners.

    A U.S. official described the freed Cubans as political prisoners, but
    the dissidents have yet to confirm any of their people were released,
    leaving them wondering who exactly the United States fought to get free.


    Participants in the meeting said they aired their differences inside but
    then agreed to present a united front. Reporters and diplomats were
    banned and all 29 dissidents placed their cell phones in a basket for
    the entire 10 hours.

    Veteran leader Elizardo Sanchez declined to define the sharpest points
    of disagreement, but said they all recognized that Obama’s move required
    a new approach to pressuring the government and seeking popular support.

    “With this change, the discourse of the government has to change, and so
    does ours … Now is the time for us to readjust our tactics due to the
    changing political scene,” Sanchez said.

    They have only just started thinking about what those tactics might be.

    Cuba’s government routinely accuses dissidents of being “mercenaries” of
    the U.S. government and many Cubans are skeptical about their motives,
    believing they are driven by the modest economic aide afforded by
    foreign groups.

    Still, Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, said
    he was optimistic. “There’s a new dynamic and we think it will be very
    positive for the future of Cuba.”

    The 29 reaffirmed their demands for multiparty elections, the release of
    all political prisoners and respect for the United Nations’ Universal
    Declaration of Human Rights.

    But the discord from the Ladies in White was notable.

    Images of Cuban police roughing up the Ladies in White at demonstrations
    have raised their profile, placing them among the most celebrated
    dissidents in the United States, along with Yoani Sanchez.

    She has yet to offer strong opinions about the U.S. policy change, but
    other young dissidents have decided to embrace it.

    “The worst thing we can do is cry about what happened,” said Eliecer
    Avila, 29, the leader of Somos Mas (We Are More). “We should take Raul
    and Obama at their word. There was never a better opportunity than now
    for us bring our peoples together, and this is an opportunity we should
    not pass up.”

    (Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Rosa Tania Valdés; Editing by Kieran Murray)

    Source: Cuban dissidents shaken by U.S. rapprochement, seek new tactics
    | Reuters –