43 arrested in post-papal visit Cuba crackdown

At least 43 Cuban dissidents have been arrested in areas near where Pope Benedict XVI visited last week, dissidents said.

Havana: At least 43 Cuban dissidents have
been arrested in areas near where Pope Benedict XVI visited
last week, dissidents said, as the United States urged their
immediate release.

"We have been able to confirm that 43 opposition members
have been detained -- 10 women and 33 men -- in a crackdown on
Monday in the Santiago de Cuba area. All remain under arrest,"
said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the outlawed but tolerated
Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission.

The commission on Monday reported 25 detentions but its
figure on detentions near Santiago de Cuba -- Cuba`s
second-largest city -- has kept rising.

"Almost all of the detainees are members of the Patriotic
Union of Cuba," an opposition force led by former political
prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer. He was arrested on Monday along
with his wife Belkis Cantillo, at their home in Palmarito de
Cauto, near Santiago.

Ferrer, who was among 75 dissidents arrested in a 2003
crackdown and released last year after a mediation effort by
the Roman Catholic church, had his telephone line cut as well,
according to activists.

Sanchez said the Cuban secret police on Monday launched a
"wave of repression" with the arrests, following up on dozens
of detentions of opponents just ahead of a landmark visit last
week of the pope.

The United States, which has tense relations with Cuba,
said it was "extremely concerned" about the latest detentions
and what it said were efforts to silence reporting by cutting
off activists` cellular and Internet services.

"We call upon the Cuban government to release all
peaceful civil society activists immediately," State
Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington.

"We particularly condemn that most of those arrests took
place during the pope`s visit and with the aim of preventing
those arrested from attending public masses that the pope
officiated," Toner said.
While in Cuba, the pontiff did not meet with opposition
members. But last Wednesday he wrapped up a visit to Cuba with
a call for respect of "basic freedoms," pursuing his
persistent prodding of the island`s communist authorities to
embrace change.

"May no one feel excluded from taking up this exciting
task because of limitations of his or her basic freedoms,"
Benedict said at a mass in Havana, as President Raul Castro
looked on. Cuba is the Americas` only one-party communist

Last week, dissident sources said Cuban authorities
rounded up at least 150 to thwart any demonstrations during a
landmark visit by the pontiff.