By Patricia Zapor, Catholic News Service
(CNS) -- With the clock ticking down to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba March
26-28, efforts to ramp up peaceful public protests of government policies were
being met by government crackdowns.
than 70 members of the "Damas de Blanco," or Ladies in White, were
arrested during protests March 17 and 18 as they attempted to stage marches
from the home of their late leader Laura Pollan to mark the anniversary of a
2003 crackdown on dissidents known as Cuba's Black Spring. They were released a
few hours later, according to wire service reports.
government's actions were decried by a spokesman for the National Security
Council in a White House statement and by a Cuban-American member of Congress
in a speech on the floor of the House.
years, the Ladies in White have held weekly silent marches to protest the
imprisonment of their husbands, sons and brothers. The last of the prisoners
were released last spring in an agreement negotiated by Havana Cardinal Jaime
Ortega Alamino. But the protests of government restrictions have continued and
the women have sought an audience with the pope during his visit.
Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, said in a March 19 statement that
the detention of the women "underscores the disdain of Cuban authorities
for the universal rights of the Cuban people. The quiet dignity of the 'Damas'
stands in stark contrast with the acts of those who are standing in the way of
the basic aspirations of the Cuban people."
also called for authorities to "abandon their tactics of intimidation and
harassment to stifle peaceful dissent." He said President Barack Obama and
the American people "remain steadfast in standing with the 'Damas' and
other courageous voices in Cuban civil society who demonstrate the Cuban
people's desire to freely determine their country's future."
March 20 on the House floor, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called on the
pope to "publicly support the aspirations of the enslaved Cuban people to
exercise their God-given rights."
decried the Cuban government's use of short-term detention "in order to
intimidate and silence the voices of these brave Cubans standing up against
tyranny and oppression."
is my hope that Pope Benedict will meet with these brave dissidents and shine a
light on the struggles of the Cuban people who are living under the rule of the
oppressive Castro brothers," she said. "I urge the Catholic Church to
express its support and solidarity with the internal peaceful opposition and
hear the voices of the dissidents who are yearning for freedom."
Miami Herald reported that the Ladies in White were told they would no longer
be allowed to hold their weekly public protests because the prisoners had been
released. They also were told they could not stage a planned protest outside
the papal Mass in Havana March 28, though they would be allowed to attend the
Mass, according to the Herald.
attempts to stage protests in Catholic churches elsewhere in the country have
been met with government and church opposition.
website of the Cuban bishops' conference March 17 posted a detailed statement
from Holguin Bishop Emilio Aranguren Echeverria explaining the circumstances
under which he had 18 people ejected from St. Isidore Cathedral after they tried
to occupy the church as a political statement.
Aranguren said he told the people who attempted to stay inside the church past
its normal hours that their protest, particularly their conversation, use of
cellphones and cameras, was an inappropriate use of the building.
similar effort to occupy the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in Havana a week
earlier ended with the removal of 13 people who had settled into the church for
more than 48 hours, disrupting daily Masses. In a March 15 statement, Orlando
Marquez, spokesman for the Havana Archdiocese, said the people left voluntarily
after being assured by Cardinal Ortega and government authorities that they
would be allowed to return to their homes without incident.
—from Catholic News Service