Cuban dissidents discuss human rights on eve of Obama meeting

HAVANA (WSVN) — Political dissidents in Cuba will have an opportunity to be heard by President Barack Obama, Tuesday, and they’re hopeful he will be able to shine a spotlight on what they described as a human rights crisis on the island.

Demonstrators took to the streets just outside Havana on Palm Sunday in a peaceful march asking for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners. They clashed with pro-Cuban government protesters, and more than 50 of them were taken into custody.

"They detained all of us. Everybody who participated in the march was detained," said Lusinda Gonzalez Gomez, a member of the group Ladies in White, speaking through a translator.

Gonzalez Gomez said she hid her white clothes underneath dark garments so she could arrive at her destination without being stopped.

A heavy police presence remained in the area where the march took place.

Another participant, Antonio Rodriles, is one of the dissidents invited to speak with Obama during his trip. Hours before his arrest, Sunday, he questioned whether attending that meeting would even be possible.

"They are going to arrest us, they are going to beat us, and let’s see if they are going to allow us to go to the meeting with President Obama," said Rodriles, who was wearing a white T-shirt with the hashtag "Todos Marchamos" ("We Are All Marching").

7News spoke with a Lady in White who was unable to make it to Sunday’s protest. She said she came alone to a meeting that was supposed to take place Monday at 11 a.m.

Moments after speaking with her, the 7News crew went down the street, turned around and witnessed police officers taking her away. She said she doesn’t even carry a cellphone because, if she’s detained, she doesn’t want authorities to be able to register her cellular number.

The Ladies in White fight for the release of political prisoners and human rights on the island. Gonzalez Gomez had a message to those who might question their motives or their marches, which have ended in detention and arrests 46 weeks and counting. "In other countries, the police protect you. In Cuba, it’s the opposite," she said. "This is a right all Cubans have, not just the Ladies in White. All Cubans have a right to gather and protest."

Obama is scheduled to meet the dissidents at the U.S. Embassy in Havana before attending a baseball game between Cuba’s national team and the Tampa Bay Rays.