Feb. 24 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday demanded Cuba release human rights activists and dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was imprisoned by the Caribbean nation more than 100 days ago.
In an open letter to Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, Pompeo said the United States is joined by a chorus of others in demanding that they release Ferrer who has suffered more than five months of being “dragged, chained, beaten and burned at the hands of the regime, which you represent.”
“Until there is democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba and all political prisoners are freed, the United States will continue to hold the regime accountable for its abuses,” Pompeo said. “For the sake of the Cuban people and for the betterment of your nation, we urge you to free Jose Daniel Ferrer immediately and take the first step toward a better future for Cuba.”
In response, Rodriguez rejected Pompeo’s claim of caring about human rights in the island nation, saying if he did he’d lift the “genocidal blockage” that the United States has imposed on Cuba and lift the travel ban Pompeo imposed late last year and then tightened in January.
“Stop the ‘travel ban,'” Rodriguez wrote on Twitter.
Ferrer was originally detained in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of conducting acts that threaten the country by advocating for human rights and democracy, according to Amnesty International.
However, he was released in March 2011 following the intervention of the Cuban Catholic Church.
After his release, he founded the dissident group Patriotic Union of Cuba that pushes for democratic change in Cuba.
Ferrer was most recently arrested on Oct. 1 along with six other UNPACU members during a police raid on his home and his organization’s headquarters, according to U.S.-based watchdog Freedom House.
Following his arrest, Pompeo said that Ferrer was not informed of his charges nor allowed to see a lawyer.
Granma, the official gazette of the Communist Party of Cuba, later reported that Ferrer was a paid agent of the United States — accusations UNPACU vehemently rejected.
On Monday, Pompeo called the charges against Ferrer “spurious” and said they follow a pattern of harassment, violence and arbitrary arrests of Cuban citizens who seek a transition to democracy.
“It cannot be a crime to criticize policies that have set Cuba’s development tumbling backwards for the past 61 years,” Pompeo wrote.
The United States and Cuba experienced a thaw to their relationship under the Obama administration but hostilities between the two countries heightened again once President Donald Trump took power, with restricting commercial flights to Cuban aside from Havana in October and then suspending all charter flights in January.