Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cuban archbishop evacuates Ladies in White from basilica amid fears of police beating

Posted on Monday, 02.20.12

Cuban archbishop evacuates Ladies in White from basilica amid fears of
police beating
By Juan O. Tamayo
Miami Herald

The archbishop of Cuba's second-largest city helped evacuate 14 women
dissidents who had sought refuge at the El Cobre Basilica amid reports
that police were waiting nearby to beat them, dissidents reported Monday.

Lady in White member Thaimí Vega alleged, meanwhile, that she suffered a
miscarriage after police detained her to keep her from joining the other
women for Sunday's mass at El Cobre, nine miles west of Santiago de Cuba.

The incidents came on a weekend when police arrested about 30 members
and supporters of the Ladies in White around the eastern region of
Santiago alone, dissident Prudencio Villalón reported. Three more
members were detained Monday.

Villalón, who accompanied the 14 Ladies in White to the Our Lady of
Charity Basilica, said they declared a hunger strike on the steps after
mass Sunday morning, saying that they had received threats from a large
group of police deployed at a nearby junction.

"The police were sending (text) messages to the Ladies in El Cobre with
things like 'we're waiting here to give you all such a beating,'" said
member Belkis Cantillo, whose daughter was among the 14 women.

A priest in El Cobre telephoned Santiago Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, who
also serves as head of the Conference of Cuban Bishops, and Garcia
arrived around 7 p.m. with two church vans. He did not allow photos of
him with the women, Villalón said.

It was the second time in as many months that officials of Cuba's
Catholic Church, sometimes accused of being too timid in their dealings
with the communist government, have protected dissidents who sought the
protection of temples.

Last month, the bishop of Holguin and a parish priest protected a small
group of opposition activists from a government-organized mob, armed
with sticks and rocks, that besieged the church in that eastern city
where they had attended a Sunday mass.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega also interceded on behalf of the Havana Ladies in
White in 2010, and now they march after Sunday masses at the Santa Rita
church without any harassment. But the women in the Santiago area have
been harshly repressed whenever they try to march after Sunday masses at
El Cobre or the Santiago Cathedral.

El Nuevo Herald's calls to García's office in Santiago went unanswered.

Cantillo said the 14 women at El Cobre, which holds the image of Cuba's
patron saint, had slipped in through back roads on Saturday. But she and
others were arrested nearby and in their home towns to keep them from
attending the mass.

She reported that three of the 14 were detained Monday as they started a
march demanding the release of 12 male dissidents — themselves detained
Sunday when they went on the streets of Palma to demand safe passage
home for the women at El Cobre.

Thaimí Vega told El Nuevo Herald by telephone that she was one of the
Ladies in White detained by police Saturday as she tried to slip into El
Cobre. Her story could not be independently confirmed.

Vega, a 22-year-old from Palma Soriano, said police intercepted her on a
highway checkpoint near El Cobre around 2 p.m., after finding white
clothes in her bag. "They told me, 'you're not going anyplace.' "

She told police that she was about six weeks pregnant and was not
feeling well, Vega alleged between sobs. But police kept her until 9
p.m., when they put her on a passing truck for the trip home.

Vega said she started to bleed profusely once at home and had "no doubt
that she had miscarried," although she had not been to see a doctor as
of Monday. "Those doctors work for the government and who knows what
they could do," she said.

Vega's husband, Dunieski Domínguez, 31, a member of the dissident Cuban
Patriotic Union, said she told him she was pregnant two weeks ago. Vega,
who has a five-year-old boy from a previous marriage, said she had not
seen a doctor to confirm the pregnancy because it was too early.


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