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Cuba Releases Most Opposition Members Detained Ahead of Obama Visit


While Cuban officials have released the majority of some 50 Ladies in White dissidents arrested at their weekly demonstration here Sunday afternoon, 10 remain unaccounted for, the opposition group’s leader told VOA Monday.

Berta Soler said most of the dissidents – taken into custody just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s entourage landed in Havana – were released after several hours of detention. Those released Sunday evening included Soler’s husband, Angel Moya, a former political prisoner.

Ladies in White members, subjected to frequent arrests, are among dissidents expected to meet with U.S. officials during Obama's three-day visit.

Uniformed and plain-clothes police patrolled the area around Gandhi Park from early Sunday morning, as the women arrived en masse.

For more than a decade, the group, known as Damas de Blanco in Spanish, has advocated for an end to arbitrary detentions.

In recent years, the group – comprised of nearly 200 women across Cuba – has broadened to support human rights. They are outspoken opponents of the Castro government.

'Understand the obstacles'

Berta Soler speaks with the media outside St. Rita's Church in Havana on March 20, 2016, hours before her arrest. (V. Macchi/VOA)

Berta Soler speaks with the media outside St. Rita's Church in Havana on March 20, 2016, hours before her arrest. (V. Macchi/VOA)

The Damas report that detentions and police violence happen frequently, at the Sunday protest and near their homes, and can last from hours to days.

"We're not masochists. No one likes to be hit," Soler told VOA the night before her most recent detention. "But when we see that they hit us unjustly, that they arrest us arbitrarily, it makes us stronger."

Berta Soler on the evening before her March 20 arrest, Havana. (V. Macchi/VOA)

Berta Soler on the evening before her March 20 arrest, Havana. (V. Macchi/VOA)

Soler is scheduled to meet with a "high-level" U.S. official Tuesday morning.

Obama, in a letter to the Damas ahead of his arrival in Havana Sunday afternoon, wrote "no one in Cuba or anywhere else should face harassment, arrest, or physical assault just because they are exercising a universal right to have their voices heard."

Radio Marti reporter Ivan Garcia-Quintero contributed to this report.

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