Photo: Ladies in White Arrested on Eve of Pope Visit
The Cuban dissident movement on Sunday denounced dozens of arbitrary arrests of opposition members, among them 18 of the Ladies in White group, as well as threats and intimidation in the days prior to the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI on the island.
“With regard to the papal visit, the Castro regime has increased its repressive actions and intimidation against peaceful dissidents,” said the opposition Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, or CCDHRN, in a communique.
The CCDHRN said it had confirmed 70 arrests over the past four days, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba, where the pope will begin his visit on Monday.
The opposition group said that the regime had also been threatening to arrest and intimidating other dissidents to try and motivate them not to attend the Masses the pope will celebrate on the island.
The Ladies in White, who lobby for the release of political prisoners and human rights, confirmed Sunday in Havana that 18 of thr group’s members had been arrested and many others had been threatened.
Nevertheless, the group will attend the Mass presided over by the pontiff in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion, its leader, Berta Soler, told reporters on Sunday.
About 20 women belonging to the Ladies in White on Sunday attended Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, as they do every Sunday, and afterwards they marched in silence down a nearby street. After their peaceful march last weekend, dozens of members of the group were arrested and held by police for several hours.
“Despite the threats by the repressive forces, we’re going to ... go on the 28th to the plaza (of the Revolution) to hear the Holy Father’s Mass, a right we have because nobody can choose who may or may not participate in a Mass and be close to God,” Soler said.
In Santiago de Cuba, the Ladies in White in that region did not attend Sunday Mass at the Sanctuary of the Virgen del Cobre, Efe correspondents verified.
Meanwhile, the CCDHRN also said that in Havana and Santiago at least 100 beggars had been detained or interned “so that they are not seen on the streets by foreign visitors, including pilgrims and reporters, during the visit of Benedict XVI.”
“The forced internment of these defenseless and absolutely vulnerable people constitutes a repugnant violation of human rights,” the group led by Elizardo Sanchez said.
Simultaneously, “the government is deploying its enormous capacity for bureaucratic mobilization to fill the plazas and other places where Benedict XVI will go,” the CCDHRN said.
After his visit to Mexico, the pontiff will arrive in Cuba on Monday morning and will be welcomed by President Raul Castro in Santiago, where the pope will celebrate his first Mass on the island.
Benedict XVI, who will not meet with any dissidents during his stay in Cuba, will leave the island on March 28 after another Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion.
In the weeks leading up to the papal visit, there have been several episodes of tension involving dissident groups such as the occupation of a church in Havana and the temporary arrests of the Ladies in White.
The Cuban government, which considers the dissidents to be counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries in the service of the United States, has warned that those who try to “obstruct this apostolic visit with political manipulations ... will fail.”