Human rights activists say 1,158 Cubans detained to keep them away
from papal events
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuban police carried out 1,158 political detentions in March — mostly
to keep dissidents away from Pope Benedict XVI — the most since the
mass roundups during the Bay of Pigs invasion five decades ago, a
human rights group reported Tuesday.
The report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation in Havana came a day after police once again detained
Andrés Carrión Alvarez, who shouted "Down with Communism" before the
pope's mass in Santiago de Cuba last month.
The tally added fuel to complaints that the pope and Cuban Catholic
Church turned a blind eye to the communist government's human rights
abuses in their efforts to gain more space for church activities on
The dissident Ladies in White have asked for a meeting with Cuban
Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino "because the repression has grown worse
here in Cuba, and what we're seeing is a total silence on the part of
the church," group leader Bertha Soler said Tuesday.
The 40-page report, which included names and dates for each detention,
was the hardest evidence yet that the government cracked down on
dissent roughly at the same time Benedict was calling for freedom
during his March 26-29 visit.
More than half the "arbitrary detentions for political motives" and
house arrests reported during March took place in the days just before
and during the papal visit, the report noted, in a clear campaign to
block their participation in papal events. They usually lasted a few
hours or days.
The total of 1,158 such detentions for the month, it added, was "the
highest single monthly tally in the last five decades, only comparable
to the huge sweeps carried out across the country" during the failed
Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
At that time of the attack by CIA-backed exiles, Cuban security forces
rounded up tens of thousands of men and women suspected of
sympathizing with the invaders and held them for days in jammed sports
fields, theaters and other sites.
Soler said about 60 Ladies in White were arrested during the papal
visit and only three managed to slip into the open-air papal mass in
Havana March 28. They were relatively new members of the group who
apparently were unknown to security officials.
"It is very important that the church hierarchy, Jaime (Ortega), raise
their voices so that the government will stop this repression," Soler
told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.
Emails sent to the Vatican media office and Ortega's office at the
archdiocese of Havana, seeking comment, were not immediately answered.
Commission leader Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz reported on the pope's
last day in Cuba that police had carried out 250 political arrests and
blocked scores of dissidents' celular phones. Vatican spokesman
Federico Lombardi declared on the same day that he had no information
on blocked cell phones.
The commission's monthly reports have reflected a sharp increase in
the political detentions since Cuban leader Raúl Castro, reputed to be
a pragmatist on the economy but hardliner on politics, officially
succeeded ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008.
The "arbitrary political detentions" averaged 147 per month in 2010,
then more than doubled to 343 per month for all of 2011 — with 796
reported in December, 631 in January, 604 in February and the 1,158 in
Sánchez Santa Cruz told El Nuevo Herald last month that he believed
the increase in arrests was Castro's reply to growing popular demands
for economic reforms deeper and faster than he's wiling to put them in
His commission's latest report also noted that dissidents Andrés
Carrión, Sonia Garro, Ramón Muñoz and Niurka Luque were being
processed for trial on various charges of opposing the government,
making them "political prisoners."
In a separate announcement, Sánchez Santa Cruz reported that he had
confirmation that Carrión was arrested again Monday. He was beaten and
arrested for shouting anti-government slogans just before Benedict
began his mass in Santiago, and had been freed April 13.
The second arrest came amid unconfirmed reports that he and dissident
Anyer Antonio Blanco were arrested as they staged a street protest in
Santiago demanding the release of José Daniel Ferrer García, one of
the most active dissidents in eastern Cuba.
Carrión had told the U.S. government's Radio Martí broadcaster over
the weekend that police had forbidden him from leaving his hometown of
Santiago, meeting with dissidents, making public statements or joining
Ferrer García, founder of the dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba, was
arrested during protest marches April 2 in his hometown of Palmarito
del Cauto and neighboring Palma Soriano. Amnesty International
considers him a "prisoner of conscience."
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison during a 2003 crackdown on 75
dissidents known as Cuba's Black Spring, and was freed last spring as
part of the Cuban government's 2010 agreement with the Catholic Church
to free political prisoners.