Cuba dissidents concerned for mystery protester
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
SANTIAGO, Cuba -- Leading Cuban dissidents say they don't know the man
who shouted anti-government slogans before Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in
the eastern city of Santiago. Nor do they know his whereabouts a day
after security agents removed him from the ceremony.
But they say they are trying to find out, and worry he might face
An independent Cuban group that monitors the detention of dissidents
"has not been able to identify by name the young man who pronounced
slogans in favor of freedom and against communism," said Elizardo
Sanchez, who heads the organization and is a de facto spokesman for the
dissidents. In his statement Tuesday, Sanchez called on the government
to identify him.
The Cuban government did not respond to requests for comment.
Just before Monday's Mass was to begin in Santiago's main square, a man
wearing a dark T-shirt and cap yelled "Down with the Revolution! Down
with the dictatorship!" near journalists covering the ceremony.
Security agents quickly hustled him away. Video of the incident showed
him being hit by an apparent first aid worker wearing a white T-shirt
with a large red cross, before they were separated.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was imprisoned from March 2003 to November
2004 in a crackdown on dissent, said the consequences for disrupting a
public act are serious.
"Everyone in Cuba knows what happens. ... Going to jail in Cuba is
hell," he said. "I lived it."
However, human rights watchers say the government has shifted away from
long prison sentences for opposition activists in favor of brief
detentions, and Espinosa Chepe said it may want to avoid embarrassment
in such a high-profile case. Nearly 800 journalists from around the
world are here to cover Benedict's visit, and a papal spokesman even
weighed in on the incident.
Like other dissidents, Espinosa Chepe did not know who the man is.
"I can't be sure that he is a dissident. He may be a regular citizen who
is suffocated like many" others, he said.
Church officials said they had asked the government about the fate of
"There was contact made to be informed about the person and his
situation," the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.
"More than that I don't have anything to add. But the interest was there
and was manifested."
Blogger Yoani Sanchez, who is not related to Elizardo, tweeted about the
protest on Tuesday, saying the man was beaten for criticizing the island
leaders, while the pope was warmly received despite saying ahead of his
arrival that Marxism was outmoded.
In mid-March, 13 little-known dissidents occupied a church in central
Havana to demand the pope mediate their complaints with the government.
After two days, state security agents removed the protesters at the
request of Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
A church statement criticized having its house of worship being dragged
into the political "trenches." Bertha Soler, the leader of the island's
most famous opposition group, the Ladies in White, said her followers
planned to attend Benedict's Mass in Havana on Wednesday, but would not
use the occasion for political aims.
"You have to be respectful. One goes to temples to pray ... there will
be no politics," she added.
Lombardi said Monday that those who came to worship at the Mass had the
right to "pray tranquilly with the pope," and do so "without complication."
Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia and Vivian Sequera in Havana
contributed to this report.
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