US President Barack Obama denounced the Cuban government on Wednesday for harassing the mother of a political prisoner who died after a long hunger strike, and said her treatment and the detention of other dissidents stood as evidence of the country’s poor human rights record.
The statement came as a pro-government crowd in Havana threw eggs and shouted insults outside a home where the Cuban opposition group the Damas de Blanco or (Ladies in White) were marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who passed away following an 83-day hunger strike.
A leading Cuban human rights leader said that at least 46 opposition activists had been detained across the country on Wednesday, including another well-known hunger striker, Guillermo Farinas. Many of those detained were quickly released, but Farinas remained in custody late on Wednesday afternoon.
Obama said Zapata’s “selfless and tragic death” had “galvanized the world’s attention to the ongoing mistreatment of those unjustly held by Cuban authorities.”
“The Cuban people must know that their suffering does not go unnoticed and that the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to defend the inalienable right of the Cuban people to enjoy the freedoms that define the Americas and that are universal to all human beings,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from Cuba to the US leader’s statement, but it was sure to be met with anger and indignation.