Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pope says Cuban Marxism needs change, government steps up pressures on dissidents

Posted on Friday, 03.23.12

Pope says Cuban Marxism needs change, government steps up pressures on dissidents

Cuban government steps up detentions and intimidations of dissidents as Pope Benedict XVI lands in Mexico to begin the first leg of his visit to the region. He arrives in Cuba on Monday.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Pope Benedict XVI on Friday declared that Cuba’s brand of Marxism “no longer responds to reality,” while dissidents reported the island’s security forces were arresting or intimidating dozens of opposition activists in advance of the papal visit.

The pontiff spoke to journalists aboard the Italian jetliner delivering him to a three-day visit to Mexico. Benedict will fly to Cuba on Monday to start a three-day visit to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city.

In Cuba, “today it is evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality,” the Associated Press quoted the pope as saying. “So you have to find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.”

He said the process “requires patience and also decisiveness,” according to the AP, and added that the church wants to help “in the spirit of dialogue to avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society.”

In Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, asked about the pontiff’s comments, told journalists that the island’s governing system “is a democratic social project … which is constantly perfecting itself.”

Dissidents reported a rising wave of arrests and other government pressures on critics, however, in an apparent attempt to ensure that they will not be able to stage any public protests during papal events.

“The repression is growing by the hour,” said human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz. “We are already receiving reports of detentions, above all in the (eastern) region of Santiago … tens, dozens of reports.”

“The arrests, beatings, and threats against dissidents in the lead up to the pope’s visit suggest the Cuban government will do everything in its power to quash any dissent while the world’s attention is on the island,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch. “These repressive acts underscore just how little space there is in Cuba for any view that doesn’t align with the Castro government.”

Dissidents reported Friday that police had detained Ladies in White member Liudmila Rodríguez and four male government opponents in the town of Palma Soriano, 18 miles northwest of Santiago.

The men were identified as Vilmar Mustelier Galá, Miguel Rafael Cabrera Montoya, Jose Batista Falcón and Jose Enrique Martinez, all members of the Cuban Patriotic Union.

Union spokesman José Daniel Ferrer García also reported that three Ladies in White — Anni Sarrión, Milagros Leyva and Maritza Cardoza — and dissident Rafael Meneses Pupo were detained earlier this week in the eastern town of Banes.

Police also detained Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria in the eastern town of Moa, Mary Blanca Avila in nearby Velazco, and Yaquelín García in the city Bayámo, Ferrer added. Avila and García are members of the Ladies in White.

Union member Rolando Humberto Gonzalez Rodriguez also reported that elite military units known as Special Troops had staged a showy deployment in Palma and neighboring Palmarito del Cauto to intimidate other dissidents.

Catholic activist Oswaldo Payá complained in an Internet post that “in Havana and Santiago there is an undeclared state of siege” because the government “is afraid of the people.”

In Havana, Sonia Garro and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, active in a movement demanding equality for black Cubans, were detained Friday in what one dissident described as a violent police raid on their home.

Police also summoned Oscar Elias Biscet, one of the country’s best known dissidents and a former political prisoner, and his wife Elsa Morejón to a “meeting” in Havana. Biscet sent a Tweet saying, “I refuse to go to the police station. The police exist to protect the citizen, not to crush humane ideas.”

And popular blogger Yoani Sanchez reported that two apparent State Security agents tried to stop her as she left her apartment building Friday, but she ran past them. She later sent a Tweet saying that if the police want to talk to her, “let them put it in writing.”

Sánchez Santa Cruz, meanwhile, also reported that police have been sweeping up drunkards, beggars and homeless from the streets of Havana, apparently to clean up the capital’s image in advance of the papal visit.

Some were arrested, the activist said, but others were given fresh clothes and shoes and told to turn out for papal events.

In Mexico on Friday, President Felipe Calderón and first lady Margarita Zavala greeted the pope on his arrival and escorted him along a red carpet amid a clanging of church bells and cheers from a crowd waving Vatican flags. A swelling throng gathered to cheer him along his path from the airport on his first visit to Spanish-speaking Latin America.

The streets of Leon took on a carnival atmosphere as the crowds and their enthusiasm grew steadly. Police blocked traffic on the central boulevard of Leon that the pope would travel, and people lined up three and four deep on both sides of the avenue. Everyone stopped to watch the arrival by television in restaurants and shops.

“Mexico is standing because we’re a country that perseveres with hope and solidarity, we’re a people with values and principles that believe in family, liberty, justice and democracy,” Calderón said to cheers of “Viva!” from the crowd. “Your visit fills us with joy in moments of great tribulation.”

The pope called on Mexicans to conquer an “idolatry of money” that feeds drug violence.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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