WSJ: Dissidents Deserved Papal Hearing

Sunday, April 8, 2012
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Cuba After Benedict

Dissidents who asked to meet with the Pope are now being arrested.

Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Cuba was described by the Vatican as way to spread the gospel to a nation captured by an atheist state. And surely it was the Pope's purpose to inspire as many Cubans as possible. The irony of the Pope's visit is that it has provoked a crackdown on dissent.

Agence France Press reports that in the last week at least 43 dissidents in the eastern province of Santiago, one of the stops during the Pope's three-day Cuban sojourn, have been detained by the police. They include former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer and his wife Belkis Cantillo.

Mr. Ferrer was one of the 75 arrested in Cuba's "Black Spring" in 2003, and he was among 12 who refused to accept exile as a condition of release in 2011. He is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. Ms. Cantillo is among 10 members of the Ladies in White—Catholic mothers, wives and sisters of political prisoners—who were arrested in the sweep.

The Ladies in White had lobbied the Vatican through the papal nuncio in Havana for a meeting with the Pope. Cuba's Jaime Cardinal Ortega told them that the Holy See's schedule was too tight. This request was widely publicized before the visit. So it was hard not to miss the contrast of the Pope's inevitable meetings with the Castro brothers, Raúl and Fidel, and even with the ailing Venezuelan strongman, Hugo Chávez, in the country for medical treatment.

The unhappy truth is Benedict would have had to go into the Cuban jails to see many of the island's Christian dissidents. Local activists provided the names of almost 300 who were detained in the week before the Pope arrived and held so that they couldn't attend the papal Masses in Santiago and Havana.

Thirty-eight-year-old Andres Carrión Alvarez, who did make it to the papal Mass in Santiago and chose the moment to shout "down with Communism" in front of the cameras, was beaten and led off by state security. He has not been heard from since.

Some of those arrested ahead of the Pope's visit have been released, including Ms. Cantillo. Others, like Sonia Garro, are in lock-down. Ms. Garro. a particularly courageous member of the Ladies in White who had her nose broken by Castro mobs last year, was taken away by Cuban security from her home on March 18. She has since been transferred to the Guatao women's prison in Havana and is being charged with "disrespect." She could get a sentence of up to four years.

Fairly or not, her fate and that of many other Cuban dissidents caught up in this post-papal crackdown will always be linked to the visit of Benedict XVI. They deserved a hearing while he was there.