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    Cuban dissidents praise Obama, government silent

    Cuban dissidents praise Obama, government silent
    Jeff Franks
    HAVANA
    Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:09pm EDT

    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban dissidents applauded U.S. President Barack
    Obama on Thursday for denouncing their ill treatment by the Cuban
    government and said it had helped their cause.

    Cuba

    They praised him for standing by them in what appeared to be a new,
    tougher turn for the president who has said he wanted to improve
    U.S.-Cuba relations that went bad after took power in a
    1959 revolution and installed a communist system.

    The Cuban government, which views dissidents as U.S.-employed
    subversives, has said nothing about Obama's statement, issued on
    Wednesday in Washington.

    State-run press ran a column on Thursday by former leader Fidel Castro
    praising Obama for winning approval this week of healthcare reform, but
    pointing out that Cuba has had universal healthcare for more than 50
    years. It appeared to have been written before the release of Obama's
    written statement.

    hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, in a telephone interview
    from his bed in the central city of Santa Clara, said Obama's
    declaration would not have an immediate effect, but would help isolate
    the Cuban government.

    "That is very important, given that with a dictatorial, totalitarian
    government as exists here, one must not negotiate. You have to condemn
    and isolate dictatorships," he said.

    Farinas, 48, was in the 29th day of a hunger strike seeking the release
    of 26 ailing political prisoners. He has vowed to die for his cause if
    necessary.

    Obama called Cuba's situation "deeply disturbing," citing
    the recent death of dissident hunger striker Tamayo and
    the "" of the dissident group Ladies in White last week during
    marches protesting the 2003 imprisonment of 75 government opponents.

    LADIES IN WHITE

    The women, wives and mothers of the those in the 2003 crackdown
    were shouted down by government supporters and in one instance dragged
    by police into a as they walked through Havana for seven consecutive
    days.

    "These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to
    enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the
    aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist," Obama said.

    Obama called for the immediate release of Cuba's estimated 200 political
    prisoners.

    "In name of the Ladies in White, I thank Obama for the statement
    criticizing the government," said Berta Soler, whose husband Angel Moya
    was arrested in the 2003 crackdown and is serving a 20-year sentence.

    "It is very important to count on the solidarity of international
    personalities, and on Obama in particular, raising their voice asking
    for respect of human rights," she said.

    Former also thanked Obama for
    the "strong show of support" and accused the government of rejecting
    Obama's overtures because "totalitarianism needs confrontation to
    justify repression."

    Obama's has slightly eased the long-standing U.S. trade embargo toward
    Cuba by lifting restrictions on Cuban American travel to the island and
    initiating talks on migration issues and resumption of direct mail service.

    He has pegged further progress to Cuba releasing political prisoners and
    improving human rights.

    Cuba, which says it is the victim of 50 years of U.S. aggression, has
    complained that Obama has done too little to bring about rapprochement.

    After a brief warming, relations turned rocky again when Cuba detained a
    U.S. contractor in December and accused him of working in "espionage
    services."

    The contractor, Alan Gross, remains in jail without charges. The United
    States has said he was only in Cuba to expand Internet services for
    Jewish groups, but admitted he entered the island on a tourist visa that
    would not permit such work.

    His work was funded under U.S. programs aimed at promoting democracy in
    Cuba, which Cuban leaders view as part of the long U.S. campaign to
    topple their government.

    Obama did not mention Gross in his statement.

    (Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Esteban Israel; Editing by
    Tom Brown and Philip Barbara)

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62O4LE20100325

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