Authorities arrested 51 dissidents on Tuesday to stop them from attending an open mic session convened for Cubans to speak out about their future, said Elizardo Sanchez, the head of the officially banned Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Committee.
Most were later released, although around 10 to 12 were still being held into the evening, Sanchez said. The crackdown is the first since US President Barack Obama and Cuban counterpart Raul Castro announced two weeks ago that the two countries would revive diplomatic relations severed during the Cold War and move to ease the five-decade US trade embargo.
In a stern reaction, Washington condemned Havana's "lack of respect" for human rights. "We are deeply concerned about the latest reports of detentions and arrests by Cuban authorities of peaceful civil society members and activists," the US State Department said in a statement.
"We strongly condemn the Cuban government's continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom (of) expression, and intimidate citizens."
The arrests came after Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera invited her compatriots to share their dreams for the island's future at a "participatory performance" in Revolution Square, an iconic plaza in front of Cuba's government headquarters.
Bruguera was among those released by the end of Wedneday, after being held twice times during the day, including when she tried to go to Havana's main seaside avenue, the Malecon, to hold a press conference with other activists.

An AFP correspondent said that just as she arrived, two plainclothes police stopped her, spoke briefly with her and then bundled her off in their car.
"They're taking me away," she said before entering the car earlier on Wednesday. Prominent dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez was also briefly placed under house arrest Tuesday, while her husband and editor, Reinaldo Escobar, was held for several hours at the same jail as Bruguera, media reported.

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