Cuba detains dissidents ahead of papal visit
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Last Updated: Monday, March 19, 2012, 08:51
  
Havana: Cuban authorities detained a prominent dissident and dozens of her colleagues early Sunday, then rounded up more activists while they staged a weekly protest march through Havana.

Police took away Bertha Soler and three dozen supporters of the Ladies in White dissident group hours before they were to take part in a regular march down Quinta Avenida in the leafy Miramar neighbourhood of Havana.

"They were arrested," said Angel Moya, Soler's husband and a former political prisoner himself. Soler was also detained briefly Saturday evening, he said.

About 30 other Ladies supporters did make it to the march, which began peacefully, but state security agents moved in when the Ladies tried to extend the protest into streets they don't normally enter. All were escorted onto a bus belonging to state security. By Sunday evening, many had been released and some driven back to their homes, though Soler was apparently still being held.

The Ladies in White was formed in 2003, shortly after authorities jailed 75 intellectuals, activists and social commentators in a notorious crackdown on dissent, sentencing them to long prison terms. All have since been freed, and many have gone into exile.

Havana: Cuban authorities detained a prominent dissident and dozens of her colleagues early Sunday, then rounded up more activists while they staged a weekly protest march through Havana.

Police took away Bertha Soler and three dozen supporters of the Ladies in White dissident group hours before they were to take part in a regular march down Quinta Avenida in the leafy Miramar neighbourhood of Havana.

"They were arrested," said Angel Moya, Soler's husband and a former political prisoner himself. Soler was also detained briefly Saturday evening, he said.

About 30 other Ladies supporters did make it to the march, which began peacefully, but state security agents moved in when the Ladies tried to extend the protest into streets they don't normally enter. All were escorted onto a bus belonging to state security. By Sunday evening, many had been released and some driven back to their homes, though Soler was apparently still being held.

The Ladies in White was formed in 2003, shortly after authorities jailed 75 intellectuals, activists and social commentators in a notorious crackdown on dissent, sentencing them to long prison terms. All have since been freed, and many have gone into exile.

They say Thursday's decision to call in police to remove dissidents from the Church of Charity demonstrates Ortega's lack of sympathy. Sunday's events will likely provide more fodder for those critics.

Elizardo Sanchez, who monitors human rights on the island and acts as a de facto spokesman for the opposition, expressed astonishment at the posture of Ortega, whom he has often praised in the past.

"I can't get over my astonishment over what has happened in these last few days," Sanchez said. "The cardinal is acting like the first two of the three wise monkeys," who could neither see evil nor hear it.

Even as members of the Ladies in White were being detained, Ortega was performing Mass at the grand Cathedral in Old Havana. His sermon inside the baroque, stone edifice before several hundred worshippers did not mention the week's drama, nor did he say anything about human rights in general. Instead, he kept his comments focused on religion and the pontiff's imminent arrival.

"With a sense of gratitude, enjoyment and profound spiritual peace, and with the gifts that God has given us we prepare to receive the Pope," said the 75-year-old Ortega. "Let God grant us a truly warm reception for the Holy Father, and let his visit bear abundant fruit."

Bureau Report


First Published: Monday, March 19, 2012, 08:51


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