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Obama Meets With Dissidents
Father: ‘I Still Believe God Is on the Throne’

Chronicle News Services

HAVANA--President Obama met with dissidents and civil society leaders at the U.S., Embassy in Havana saying they’ve shown “extraordinary courage” in the face of large-scale detentions of political prisoners by the Castro regime.

“They have spoken out on behalf of the issues that they care deeply about,” Obama said before the meeting, his last piece of business in Cuba before taking in a baseball game and departing for Argentina. “There are people here who have been detained. Some in the past, some very recently.”

After meeting one-on-one with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution on Monday, Obama said it was important for him to engage the Cuban people as well as the government. “Much of this is a matter of us being able to hear directly from the Cuban people and making sure that they have a voice and making sure that their concerns and their ideas are helping to shape U.S. policy,” he said.

Among those in the room: Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White movement whose members were arrested Sunday during one of their weekly protests of Cuba’s treatment of political prisoners, and Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which has counted 2,555 political detentions in the first two months of 2016.

Obama has had similar lower-profile meetings in Miami and Panama since announcing the normalization of relations with Cuba in December 2014. The White House said it intentionally selected a group of dissidents and civil society leaders with different perspectives and different concerns.

“Cuba is not a monolith. The government itself is not a monolith. And certainly the government and civil society have differences,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.

“And so I think it’s mainly an opportunity for him to hear from people who are active in different ways, and advocating for more rights, advocating for more opportunity about what their life is like and what they seek for the future.”

President Barack Obama meets with dissidents and other Cubans at the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday in Havana. From left: Angel Yunier Remon, Guillermo (Coco) Farinas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzalez, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Miriam Leiva Viamonte.

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