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Marco Rubio calls on John Kerry to meet with activists during Friday Cuba visit

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Cuban security forces rounded up around 90 protesters on Sunday, nearly half with the Ladies in White dissident group, and many of them wearing masks with the image of Barack Obama. They were released after four and a half hours in custody, according to the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler.

The crackdown came five days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to make his first visit to Cuba, eight months after Obama announced a diplomatic breakthrough with the Cuban government.  Soler called on Kerry to meet with dissident groups like the Ladies in White on his visit, in which he will be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the island since 1945.

On Tuesday, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio echoed Soler’s comment, penning a letter to Kerry in which he called on him to demand “freedom and respect” for the human rights of the Cuban people during his upcoming visit.

“Throughout the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Cuba, a demoralizing message was also sent to Cuba’s valiant pro-democracy movement, which had neither a voice nor a presence in these talks,” writes Rubio, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.

“Over the past eight months since President Obama announced his new Cuba policy,” he write, “a steady stream of administration officials and members of Congress visited Cuba with few of them bothering to meet with Cuban democracy and human rights leaders and none demanding to meet with political prisoners. Not surprisingly, the regime has responded with an unprecedented wave of repression and political arrests.”

“Despite all the setbacks President Obama’s [policies] have inflicted on the cause of a free and democratic Cuba, I urge you to at least use the opportunity of your upcoming August 14th trip to Havana to demand the freedom and rights of the Cuban people,” Rubio continues. “During your meetings with Cuban officials, you should demand that all political prisoners are released. During your visit, you should meet with the courageous leaders who are fighting to bring freedom to Cuba and invite them to the ceremony you will be presiding over at the new American embassy. This should include leaders such as Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de SATS; Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White; Jorge Garcia Perez Antunez, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and human rights activist; Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and labor leader; and Guillermo Farinas, recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.”

Solar says that “[Washington should] give the Cuban government some conditions to get it to stop violating human rights.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has sent a letter to Secretary Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, saying that the current negotiations between Cuba and the U.S. offers a “singular opportunity” to require that Cuba take back some of its nationals, who have been ordered to leave the United States, as a requirement to restoring diplomatic ties. The Iowa Republican said that he believes there are currently 34,000 Cuban nationals in the United States who have been ordered to leave, and that “many are apparently convicted criminals.”

Roll Call reports that Grassley is also pushing Kerry and Johnson to say if repatriation would be included in further talks with Cuba, and why they think it will be successful since “the U.S. has given away the enormous political/diplomatic leverage it had against Cuba.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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