The crackdown began on Tuesday morning and carried over into Wednesday. From activists to musicians, no one was safe from the regime’s iron-fisted oppression. In addition to the detentions, the government also shut down the cellular and home phone services of many, preventing them from sounding the alarm.
The Ladies in White, famous for their peaceful marches while carrying white flowers, had 20 members violently shoved into waiting cars. Throughout the island, government-sponsored mobs in plain clothes also injured and robbed the democratic opposition.
While the dictatorial regime has never been tolerant of dissent, the audacious nature of these arrests is unprecedented. The last time the regime conducted such a widespread crackdown was in the spring of 2003, when it arrested 75 dissidents. Knowing full well the international controversy that it would generate, Fidel Castro conducted the arrests at the inception of the war in Iraq.
This time around, Raúl Castro did not need to mitigate the publicity of its oppression.
It’s no coincidence that these events occurred less than two hours after Obama shook hands with Castro. The symbolic nature of this gesture gave the Cuban dictator the green light to continue his oppression against those who fight for the same values the United States stands for.
He was clearly sending the international community a message by arresting so many dissidents during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service on International Human Rights Day.
As the leader of the free world, Obama should realize that his actions have consequences. By continuing his appeasement of bowing to dictators and shaking the bloody hands of ruthless tyrants, he’s granting them the legitimacy they desperately crave.
Sadly, the Obama administration’s foreign policy does not include taking a stand against tyranny. Obama needs to follow up his handshake by publicly denouncing this crackdown and extending his support for the brave democratic opposition. On International Human Rights Day, and every other day, the Castro regime should be sent the message that human rights abuses will not be tolerated by the United States.
This article first appeared in The Foundry.