February 2, 2015 / 7:09 PM / 3 years ago

Cuba detains fewer dissidents following detente with U.S.

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban police detained 178 opposition activists in January, the lowest monthly total in more than four years as Cuba entered talks with the United States to restore diplomatic relations, a dissident human rights organization said on Monday.

A man stands near the national flags of the U.S. and Cuba (R) on the balcony of a hotel being used by the first U.S. congressional delegation to Cuba since the change of policy announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 17, in Havana, January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

The political detentions lasted from two hours to 12 days and were typical of how Cuba represses opponents to its one-party system, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation said in its monthly report.

It was the lowest monthly number since September 2010, according to the commission’s records, and compares with a monthly average of 741 last year and 536 in 2013.

Cuba dismisses the dissidents as a tiny minority of provocateurs who are motivated by U.S. payments funneled through non-governmental organizations. The government does not comment on police activity.

“The decrease in the number of short-term detentions compared to the previous 48 months was glaring, but we should continue demanding that the Cuban government end political repression,” the commission said in the report.

Commission leader Elizardo Sanchez was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Most of the detentions in January were a response to the activism of recognized dissidents, some of whom were harassed on their way to attending church, the commission said. Three were held for handing out political pamphlets, the commission said.

The commission’s data cannot be independently verified, and the numbers include people who are detained more than once.

The commission said Cuba detained 8,899 people in 2014, the highest annual number since it began publishing records in 2010, but detentions dropped off in the second half of the year as Cuba and the United States drew closer to their Dec. 17 announcement.

On that date U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro said they would restore diplomatic ties and seek to normalize trade and travel after more than five decades of hostilities.

The deal, reached after 18 months of secret talks, included a prisoner swap in which the United States freed three Cuban spies and Cuba released U.S. citizen Alan Gross and a Cuban who had spied for the Americans. Cuba also agreed to release 53 people who the United States considered political prisoners.

Cuba released 16 of those 53 prisoners throughout the course of 2014 and the other 37 on Jan. 7-8 of this year, the commission said.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Christian Plumb

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