Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cuba Church defends brokering prisoner release

Cuba Church defends brokering prisoner release
By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer Will Weissert, Associated
Press Writer – Fri Aug 20, 5:37 pm ET

HAVANA – Roman Catholic officials said Friday they had a humanitarian
obligation to broker a landmark deal in which Cuba promised to free 52
political prisoners — answering island opposition activists who
complained of being left out of negotiations.

Cuba's Catholic Church said it knew beforehand that its discussions with
the government of Raul Castro "could provoke diverse reactions, from
insults and defamation to acceptance and gratitude."

But "remaining inactive was not a valid option," it said in a statement.

Those sentiments came in response to a letter to Pope Benedict XVI from
165 top Cuban political activists, community organizers and dissidents
that has circulated in Spain but not on the island. The letter said that
while the dissident community supports the result of the July 7 deal
between the Church and Cuba, both sides ignored the needs of the
country's political opposition in reaching it.

The government has already freed 26 prisoners and sent them with their
relatives to Spain to live in exile. The rest are expected to be
released in the coming weeks, emptying Cuban jails of the last of the
political prisoners imprisoned after a sweeping crackdown on organized
dissent in 2003.

It is not clear whether those still waiting to be freed will be allowed
to stay in Cuba or go into exile.

In their letter to the pope, the dissidents wrote, "a correct mediation
on this topic should have included hearing the complaints of both sides
and reconciling them."

"We do not agree with the position taken by the Cuban religious
hierarchy on behalf of political prisoners," it added. "It is lamentable
and even embarrassing."

It also denounced a new wave of arrests of dissidents, most of whom have
been held for a few hours and then released.

The letter said pressure on those who publicly oppose Cuba's communist
system has intensified this month after Castro said in a televised
address that, despite his government's agreement with the Church, "there
will not be impunity for the enemies of the homeland."

"Repression, hostility and arbitrary detentions have increased in recent
days, after the threats of President Raul Castro on Aug. 1," the letter
said. "It raises the question: 'Are they emptying the prisons just to
fill them again?'"

Some such incidents have involved Reina Luisa Tamayo, whose son Orlando
died Feb. 23 after staging a monthslong hunger strike behind bars.
Tamayo and a small group of relatives have taken to the streets in his
memory in her hometown of Banes every Sunday since, but pro-government
mobs have broken up their march each of the last two weeks — sparking
outcry from Amnesty International and other international groups.

Tamayo was not among the dissidents to sign the letter to the pope, but
two of her sons did.

In its statement Friday, the Church said it "will not divert its
attention from that which motivated it to become part of this process:
the humanitarian complaints of the families who have suffered from the
incarceration of one or more of their members."

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