U.S. slams Cuba dissident arrests

Cuba reportedly detained several dissidents on December 30, 2014 ahead of a planned rally in Havana.

Story highlights

  • The United States and Cuba exchanged prisoners two weeks ago
  • The move was part of a change in U.S. policy toward the island nation
  • Dissidents reported several arrests ahead of a planned rally Tuesday

Havana, Cuba (CNN)Two weeks after the United States and Cuba agreed to thaw decades of icy relations, the U.S. State Department blasted the Cuban government for reportedly arresting at least six dissidents.

There was no comment from Cuban authorities on the arrests that were reported by other dissidents and the U.S. State Department.
"We are deeply concerned about the latest reports of detentions and arrests by Cuban authorities of peaceful civil society members and activists," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement.
    Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, wrote Tuesday on Twitter that "Freedom of expression remains core of U.S. policy on ‪Cuba, we support activists exercising those rights and condemn today's detentions."
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    Jacobson is expected to travel to Havana in January to lead U.S. efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, U.S. government officials had previously said.
    The reported detentions came after a Cuban performance artist called for an open forum to demand changes from the country's single-party communist government.
    The event was due to take place in Havana's revolution square, the central plaza usually reserved for speeches from Fidel and Raul Castro and visiting dignitaries like Pope John Paul II.
    Cuban dissidents said the artist, Tania Bruguera, well-known for pushing the limits of freedom of expression in Cuba, was also arrested before the protest could begin.
    Bruguera had tried to convince Cuban officials to allow the event to go forward but on Tuesday the government-run union for artists and writers released a statement calling her proposal a "political provocation" meant to derail improving U.S.-Cuban relations.
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    Government critic and blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote that she supported the event but on Tuesday tweeted that she was under house arrest and her husband had been taken away by police.
    CNN saw a police car and two uniformed police officers, as well as at least two men in civilian clothes who appeared to be security agents, outside the building where Sanchez lives on Tuesday. No one answered her door when the CNN crew tried to reach her for comment.
    Cubans have limited access to the Internet and despite a social media campaign to raise awareness about the event, the protest never materialized Tuesday.
    On December 17, Cuba released U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who'd been held since 2009 for smuggling satellite equipment onto the island. His freedom was part of a landmark deal paving the way for a major overhaul in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
    Cuba also freed a Cuban double agent who had worked as a U.S. intelligence source and who'd been held for more than 20 years, although authorities did not identify that person for security reasons. For its part, the United States released three of five Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.