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Cuban dissidents heckled at Americas Summit

Cuban dissidents heckled at Americas Summit
BY JOSHUA GOODMAN AND ANDREA RODRIGUEZ ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/08/2015 9:00 PM 04/08/2015 9:59 PM

PANAMA CITY
About 100 supporters of Cuba’s government aggressively heckled
dissidents from the communist-run island attending a civil society forum
Wednesday at the start of the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Opponents of President Raul Castro were greeted to shouts of
“imperialist” and “mercenaries” as they filed into a hotel auditorium to
attend speeches by summit host Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela
and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Organizers appealed for calm during the frenzied scene, which lasted for
more than an hour. But their plea fell on deaf ears and the
pro-government groups angrily marched out of the forum, saying they
wouldn’t attend the proceedings in the presence of individuals they
accuse of trying to destabilize Cuba’s government. The boycott was later
joined by pro-government groups from ally Venezuela.

“We’ll never share the same physical space with groups that are paid for
by the U.S. and have caused so much damage to the Cuban people,” said
Ariana Guerra Hernandez, a representative of a group of Cuban university
students.

The heated exchange at a normally sleepy forum for non-governmental
organizations across Latin America and the Caribbean highlighted the
strong emotions hanging over the regional summit generated by the
expected attendance by Cuba’s president for the first time and recent
U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials for human rights abuses.

Groups both in favor and opposed to the governments of Venezuela and
Cuba are seeking to leverage the presence of U.S. President Barack Obama
and 30 regional heads of state to make their views known.

Just organizing the forum was a logistical challenge, with host Panama
in collaboration with the Washington-based Organization of American
States facing the impossible task of trying to distinguish between
grassroots groups and those backed by the two governments.

“We hope for the mutual respect and understanding of everyone who
arrives to our country,” an exasperated Ruben Castillo, an organizer of
the forum from Panama, told journalists who rushed to take photos of the
group waving Cuban flags and handing out an 8-page pamphlet titled
“Mercenaries in Panama,” profiling prominent dissidents in attendance.
Among them are Berta Soler, leader of the Cuban group Ladies in White,
and Guillermo Farinas.

Also expected to attend are the wives of jailed Venezuelan opposition
leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, the deposed mayor of Caracas.

Members of a pro-government Venezuelan group complained that the forum
was being promoted by the U.S. to portray Latin America’s leftist
governments as anti-democratic.

“It makes me indignant that organizers are inviting a group of people
who are responsible for instigating violence,” said Yendry Velasquez de
Bracho, who lost her husband, a National Guard captain, during the
anti-government protests last year.

Source: Cuban dissidents heckled at Americas Summit | Miami Herald Miami
Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article17893742.html

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