Kudos to The Miami Herald for setting the record straight on Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega's vile accusations last week.
In The Miami Herald:
Cuban dissidents say Cardinal Ortega was wrong to call them criminals
The dissidents were part of a group of 13 who occupied a Catholic church to press political demands in March.
Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega has said that the 13 dissidents who occupied a Havana church days before Pope Benedict XVI visited the island had criminal records, were largely uneducated, and that one had mental problems.
But several members of the group contacted by El Nuevo Herald Monday denied they had criminal records. One is an architect and others were educated in a variety of jobs and professions, such as computer technician, sports trainer, bookkeeper and forensic technician.
“I can only say that the 13 are a perfect reflection of Cuban society, in which there is everything,” said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, who angrily called Ortega’s comments “incredible.”
Ortega, already branded by critics as too friendly with the Raúl Castro government, sparked a firestorm of controversy last week when he criticized the 13 dissidents during a speech at Harvard University.
“All were old delinquents,” he declared, adding that they “lacked a level of culture.” He described one as suffering from mental problems and another as having been returned to Cuba by U.S. authorities after serving six years in a U.S. prison.
The U.S. “excludable” was Carlos Miguel López Santos, who has claimed that U.S. authorities returned him after mistaking him for another man accused of terrorism, said María López Báez, head of a Havana chapter of the Cuban Human Rights Commission.
Another of the 13 suffers from mental problems, said López by phone from Havana. She added that those problems were created by the government repression.
Ortega’s office in Havana did not reply to an email asking if the information about the group had come from the dissidents themselves or from government officials.
López said 11 of the 13 were members of the little known Republican Party of Cuba (PRC) and two of the Frank Pais November 30 Movement.
They occupied Our Lady of Charity Church in Havana March 13, and Ortega asked the Cuban government to force them out the next day.
El Nuevo Herald reached six of the 13 by phone Monday:
• Jennifer Hernandez Piloto, 23, said she had no criminal record and no university studies but earned a diploma as a food preparation technician. She is active in the PRC and the dissident Latin American Federation of Rural Women.
• Her brother Yosiel Guia Piloto, 29, said he had no criminal record either. He did not attend college and works as a bricklayer.
• Daysi Ponce Arencibia said she graduated from high school, has a certificate as a computer technician and used to work in the Ministry of Health. She added that she now repairs cigarette lighters and has no criminal record.
• Ronnier Valentín Aguillón said he played competitive baseball, has a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and now earns some income as a practitioner of Santeria, one of Cuba’s several African-based religions. He said he was never convicted of anything.
• PRC spokesman Fred Calderon Muñoa said he studied commerce in a university and worked as a bookkeeper in the archives section of a Havana provincial government office.
• Madeline Caraballo Betancourt, 42, the only one who acknowledged a criminal record, said she served six months in prison in 2005 for criticizing the government.
Caraballo said she was fired from her job as a forensic medicine technician in Havana after complaining about a blood transfusion that made her HIV-positive. She now buys and sells used clothing and other items.
López said PRC director Vladimir Calderón Frías, 46, is an architect with no criminal record.
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