Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cuba’s Ladies in White have ‘tough’ meeting with Church official

Posted on Friday, 05.25.12

Cuba's Ladies in White have 'tough' meeting with Church official

The Ladies in White meeting with the archbishop of Santiago went much
more smoothly than their encounter with the archbishop of Havana.
By Juan O. Tamayo

A Cuban Catholic Church official told the Ladies in White on Friday they
are no longer a humanitarian group and that the government is unlikely
to let them go to the Vatican even if Pope Benedict XVI grants them an
audience, spokeswoman Berta Soler said.

The lay spokesman for Cardinal Jaime Ortega, meanwhile, told a
conference in California that the government must guarantee the rights
of the island's "political, cultural or religious" minorities and
dissidents must abandon "verbal violence."

Soler said Msgr. Ramón Suárez Polcari, chancellor of the Havana
archdiocese, "has always been very receptive with us, but not today."
During the meeting between four Ladies in White and Polcari, she added,
"there were tough moments."

When the women asked for an audience with the pope, Soler said, the
monsignor replied that if the government did not allow them to attend
Benedict's masses during his visit in March, it was unlikely to allow
them to fly to Italy.

Polcari also challenged the purpose of the Ladies in White, founded by
women relatives of 75 dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown to demand
their release. All were freed by last summer, after Ortega interceded on
their behalf.

The monsignor "told us that we are a political movement, that we have
changed. We told him we are a humanitarian group, a human rights group,"
Soler told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Havana. Polcari was not
immediately available for comment.

The women "reminded him why we're continuing," gave him a list of about
60 Cubans imprisoned for political motives and the names of the 60
Ladies in White arrested in March for brief periods to keep them from
attending the papal masses.

Participating in the 80-minute meeting were Soler, Magalys Norvis,
Odalis Sanabria and Laura María Labrada Pollán. Polcari's title makes
him a top administrator for the archdiocese of Havana.

Soler's version of the meeting underlined the worsening relations
between dissidents and members of the church hierarchy, especially
Ortega, accused of forging a virtual partnership with Castro's communist

The Ladies in White, who last met with Ortega in August of 2011, have
been asking for a new meeting since March 7 but received no answer,
Soler said. Last week, they again asked for a meeting with the cardinal,
and Polcari agreed to see them Friday.

In comparison, Soler noted, the women asked Monday for a meeting with
Msgr. Dionisio García Ibáñez, archbishop of eastern Santiago de Cuba,
the island's second largest city. Less than two hours later, he agreed
to see them Wednesday.

"He was very receptive with us," Soler said of the 35-minute meeting,
during which they also gave him the lists of political prisoners and
women arrested during the pope's visit. "We left very happy."

García "was interested in what happened to the women when they were
detained. He asked us, he said, 'I want to know'" Soler noted. He added
that at times he has admonished women for taking photos in church with
their cellular phones.

The Santiago region has been a hotspot for dissident actions in the past
year, with police detaining scores of women as they try to stage public
protests after Sunday masses at the Santiago cathedral and nearby shrine
to Our Lady of Charity, Cuba's patron saint.

García, who is also president of the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference,
was in Havana for a meeting of the conference.

Ortega spokesman Orlando Marquez, meanwhile, told a meeting of the Latin
American Studies Association in San Francisco that Cuba's government
should "pay more attention to minorities, be they political, cultural or
religious … and guarantee their rights."

The government also should speed up its economic reforms "and make
citizens into participants," Marquez noted in a lengthy presentation for
the gathering of academics that specialize in hemispheric affairs.

His presentation also urged dissidents to abandon "verbal violence,
disqualifications and scorn," and noted that "not a small number of
Cubans continue, and will continue, supporting the current government,
even though they demand socio-economic changes to improve the quality of
their lives."

The government has never agreed to negotiate with dissidents, dismissing
them as "mercenaries" paid by the U.S. government to try to topple the
communist system.

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