25 detained in Cuba, dissident Ladies in White say
By Franco Ordonez
HAVANA — Cuba's Ladies in White say that more of its members were
stopped from attending Sunday demonstrations in Havana and Santiago one
day before Pope Benedict XVI visits the island.
Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White — or Damas en Blancos, a
dissident group of the wives and relatives of political prisoners — said
seven members were detained in Havana and another 18 in Santiago. Cuban
officials would not comment on the accusations of Ladies in White, but
they said the women were taking advantage of the pontiff's visit to
attract the attention of international media.
If true, the actions marked the second weekend in a row when members
were taken into custody. More than 70 Ladies in White were arrested on
March 17 and March 18.
Standing under a tree outside Santa Rita church Sunday afternoon,
Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, who said she was held 48 hours last weekend
before being released, pointed to a scab on her right leg where she said
police kicked and dragged her.
"The repression is always tough, but it's been worse the last few weeks
because of the pope's visit," Fresneda said. "The government wants the
pope to see what they want, not the reality of the people."
Soler said the group has yet to hear from the pope about its request for
a brief meeting to discuss human rights in Cuba.
"We just want one moment with the pope to tell him about the realities
of Cuba," Soler said.
The group has held weekly marches along Fifth Avenue outside Santa Rita
church since mid-2010. It's the only public protest allowed in Cuba.
More than 30 women dressed in white and carrying their traditional
gladiolas marched Sunday, followed by dozens of foreign journalists. The
demonstration continued without incident except for a woman who screamed
out pro-government slogans and called the protesters' family members
Sitting with a friend near a statue of Indian independence hero Mohandas
K. Ghandi, Jose Perez, 63, called the march "a show."
"I don't feel any repression," he said. "As long as you don't do
anything wrong, you don't have problems."
Becky Felicia was taken into custody by officials Sunday morning as she
left her downtown Havana home, according to her nephew.
Yuris Martinez Sanchez answered the door at 7 a.m. Three women and four
men, dressed in civilian clothes, told him to warn his aunt not to
Martinez said his aunt refused. She left the house three hours later.
"They were waiting," he said. "When she walked out the door they grabbed
her and put her in a police car."
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