Must Read: No to Fraudulent Change

Saturday, March 31, 2012
By Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas of the Christian Liberation Movement:

No to Fraudulent Change, Yes to Liberation

On the one hand, we are grateful that His Holiness Benedict XVI has come to Cuba to preach to our people the Word of God and to bless them. On the other hand, the unfair maneuvers by the regime to seize the encounters of the Pope with the people and the repression of the nonviolent opposition have been a scandal of which many Cubans are aware.

We believe that this repression against the opposition has not been immune to the contempt, exclusion and disqualification of opponents, Catholic or not, that we have been suffering from a certain elite within the Church. This elite through their media in such magazines as Palabra Nueva (New Word), Espacio Laical (Lay Space) and in many events, has over the years carried out a practice of disqualification of the nonviolent opposition and promoted support for the alleged changes along government lines. It is in this environment that today in the Father Felix Varela Center, a former seminary, "the Cuban businessman and politician based in the United States, Mr. Carlos Saladrigas" will speak on: Attitudes and policies we have to take to achieve the inclusion of the Cuban Diaspora in the social activity of the Island.

The Christian Liberation Movement denounces that same elite we mentioned that insists publicly that in Cuba there are no independent movements and parties. We have never sought political space within the Church, but the rights for all Cubans in society. Everyone knows that. But it is painfully obvious that the space that the Church could offer for dialogue among all Cubans, Catholics or not, with respect to plurality and open to participation, has been seized, at least in Havana, by this elite that with support from the hierarchy acts as the political party of the Church, which is neither a party nor should have parties.

This small group that takes over the space of all lay people on the political and social issues, not only excludes others, but denies the reality of our struggle for freedom and our right to exist. They coincide with the Communist Party's claim to be a single party, except within the church, and agree on the exclusion and disqualification of those who do not submit.

Not only do only do the methods of exclusion and imposition by this elite coincide with the Communist Party, but they have largely agreed on the promotion of the line attributing to the oligarchy the lead role in the alleged changes and ask for a vote of confidence in the government of Raúl Castro.

Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to "assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island." The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change.

The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight.

Translation courtesy of Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter.

The "Transformative" Power of Travel

It seems that advocates of travel to Cuba were right (sarcasm).

Travel is having such a transformative effect on the Castro regime that -- while repression towards pro-democracy activists dramatically increases -- the Cuban military is building theme parks and golf courses to even further profit.

Brilliant strategy.

Wonder if President Obama's "people-to-people" regulations will allow theme park visits and a quick round of golf -- as a cultural exception, of course.

From Bloomberg:

Cuba's government plans to build 13 golf courses by 2020 as the communist island looks to offer more than sun and sand to the 2.7 million people who visit each year, Deputy Tourism Minister Alexis Trujillo said.

The country also intends to build several theme parks and add 25,000 hotel rooms as it looks to broaden its image, Trujillo said at a news conference in Havana.

Quote of the Week

"No, I don't see a scenario here where we're going to have a normalized trade relationship with Cuba until we see significant reforms in how they act."

-- U.S. Rep Bill Huizenga (R-MI), in response to a question of whether he supports Pope Benedict XVI's call to unconditionally lift sanctions, WHTC, 3/30/12

The Genie Has Long Left Castro's Bottle

From Amnesty International:

Smoke signals to Cuba

The repression of dissent by the Cuban authorities has surged amid the Pope’s visit to the island this week.

“The mobile you are calling does not exist.”

The phone in question, belonging to Cuban political activist José Daniel Ferrer García, certainly existed a week ago.

I know this because my colleagues and I spoke to him about increasing repression against government critics in the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s three-day visit to the island.

“The number you are dialling is wrong.”

We double check the telephone number of independent journalist and blogger Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal. It is most definitely correct, but the recorded message would have us think otherwise.

“The number you have dialled is out of service.”

Our attempts to get through to the Havana office of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation – an organization denied legal status by the Cuban authorities – draws a similar blank.

As our efforts to communicate with government critics, human rights activists and independent journalists across Cuba are continually frustrated, it becomes clear that repression of dissent by the Cuban authorities during the Pope’s visit has become increasingly Orwellian.

From just before the Pope arrived in Cuba last Monday, mobile and landline connections belonging to government critics, human rights activists and independent journalists have all apparently been tampered with. A communications blockade is in place, and all potential voices of dissent have been silenced by the authorities.

Communication with Cuba is always challenging, as access to the internet is heavily restricted.

The Twitter accounts of independent journalists and bloggers, who are able to tweet from their mobile phones, have almost all been silent over the last few days.

Blogger Yoani Sánchez has been one of the few who has been able to send regular tweets, but has been unable to receive text messages or calls. One tweet reads “anyone who wants to communicate with me, best to use smoke signals!”

There are reports of more than 200 people being detained or held under house arrest, to prevent them from travelling to attend open air masses celebrated by the Pope in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

The majority have been detained in the capital Havana and in the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Holguín and Guantánamo.

The communications blockade is preventing Amnesty International and other international organizations from gathering information on these detentions and the draconian efforts of the Cuban authorities to silence dissent in front of the world’s media.

José Daniel Ferrer Garcia is a former prisoner of conscience and coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), an umbrella group of dissident organizations from the eastern provinces of Cuba. He has reportedly been held under house arrest along with his wife, a member of the rights group Ladies in White, Belkis Cantillo Ramírez and their daughter.

They live in Palma de Soriano in Santiago de Cuba Province and had intended to travel to attend the open air mass which the Pope celebrated on Monday evening in the city of Santiago de Cuba. Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal, who blogs on the effects of government restrictions on everyday life in eastern Cuba, is one of 26 people reportedly detained in his home province of Holguín.

The Cuban authorities would like the outside world to think that José Daniel’s mobile “does not exist”, and by extension that the criticism of government policies and restrictions that he and many other Cubans peacefully express, does not exist either.

However, the Cuban authorities’ attempt to silence the voice of peaceful dissidence on the international stage is ultimately fruitless: the genie has long left the bottle.

Amnesty International, along with other international human rights organizations, journalists and users of social media will continue to bear witness to the struggle of Cubans to seek respect for fundamental civil and political freedoms.

Have You Seen This Courageous Man?

Friday, March 30, 2012
His name is Andres Carrion Alvarez.

He is 38-years old and remains missing since courageously calling for "freedom" and "down with Communism" at Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Santiago de Cuba.

Carrion Alvarez was violently removed from the premises by Castro's secret police.

Thanks to Hablalo Sin Miedo, he has been identified.

Now it's important that he is not forgotten.

Dissidents Disappointed by Church

A great summary by Germany's Deutsche Presse Agentur:

Cuban dissidents lashed out Thursday at the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, after being kept at bay during this week‘s papal visit to the communist island nation.

Numerous dissidents were prevented from participating in the three-day visit of Pope Benedict XVI. Their leaders charged that several hundred were either detained or kept under house arrest, while many had their mobile and land telephone lines cut off.

The intent of such measures, dissidents say, was to keep them away from the open-air masses that Benedict celebrated in Santiago Monday and in Havana Wednesday.

Dissident Guillermo Farinas, who was awarded in 2010 the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, said security agents prevented him from leaving his home. He said the pontiff‘s pastoral visit was a "great shame."

The repression of dissidents "took place with the connivance of the high Cuban catholic hierarchy," Farinas told dpa. He had harsh criticism for Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana.

"Knowing that a wave of repression was going on across the island, [Ortega] was incapable of publicly denouncing it," Farinas said.

He was also disappointed with the pope‘s own silence.

"He had the opportunity to publicly denounce this and he did not," Farinas said.

Dissident groups and international humanitarian organizations had asked Benedict to speak up on human rights in the country during his visit.

"In Mexico he met with the victims of drug gangs. Why couldn‘t [meet with victims of repression] here?" said Berta Soler, leader of the dissident group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).

The Ladies in White, who meet for mass every Sunday and protest against the Cuban government after the service, had said they intended to go the papal mass. They also asked Benedict to meet with them for "at least one minute," although the pope did not have time for such an encounter, according to his spokesman Federico Lombardi.

"The Catholic Church neglected to listen to its flock for even one minute," Soler said.

Soler said she was detained Wednesday, as she left her home at 3 am in order to go to the papal mass in Havana‘s Plaza de la Revolucion. She was only released at 7 pm, she said, and her phone has been out of service since Monday.

Oswaldo Paya, of the Christian Liberation Movement, was one of only a few dissidents who was able to attend the mass in Havana, although he had been warned not to try. He said that security agents on his doorstep did not, in the end, prevent him from going to the square.

However, at least seven members of his group were detained, he said.

"Dissidents were treated like lepers, but Jesus Christ did not treat lepers like this," Paya told dpa. "We are part of the people too."

Paya, a Roman Catholic himself, stopped short of criticizing Benedict, however.

"He preached the word of God," he said.

According to Paya, the pope had never said he would be discussing political change during the visit.

"That‘s not the pope‘s mission. I think that is a mission for us," he said.

Paya said that Cuban authorities had filled the Plaza de la Revolucion with pro-government activists to prevent protests.

"The regime brought in thousands of members of the [Communist] party," he said.

During his stay in Cuba, Benedict spoke of the need "to build a fraternal society in which no one feels excluded," but he made no reference to the repression of dissent that accompanied his own trip or to the broader constraints on human rights in Cuba.

From the Newest "Dancing With the Stars"

Thursday, March 29, 2012
William Levy is a Cuban-born model and telenovela star, who has become the newest sensation on this season's "Dancing With the Stars."

Here's an exceprt from a recent Q&A with Levy in The New York Post:

What was it like growing up in Cuba?

I grew up in an environment where I learned to appreciate things in a different way. It was a little bit tough, as a kid, to see everybody who came from outside the country, tourists, allowed to go in every restaurant and to do whatever they wanted to do and we weren't allowed to go into those places and buy the things [tourists] were buying. You become a little mad and start seeing what you want for your future and for yourself and your family.

Where Hip-Hop is a Crime

From Amnesty International:

Free Cuban Brothers Arrested for Listening to Hip-Hop

Listening to Hip-Hop is not a crime!

Defend freedom of expression in Cuba: Call for the release of the Lima brothers, imprisoned for listening to Hip-Hop that criticizes the Cuban government.

Brothers Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz, members of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs and independent journalists, have been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2010. They were arrested during a private Christmas party in their home where they played controversial Hip-Hop music that criticized the lack of freedom of expression in Cuba. Antonio and Marcos were sentenced to two and three years' imprisonment respectively for "insulting symbols of the homeland" and “public disorder”.

Amnesty International believes the brothers to be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression.

Demand their release now!

Take action here.

A Sad Trip to Cuba

By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

The Pope’s Sad Trip To Cuba

The most significant statement made during Pope Benedict’s trip to Cuba this week was that made by the government minister in charge of economic reform, Marino Murillo, who said “In Cuba, there will not be political reform.”

He’s right, although that is a truth too many people wish to obscure. The Castro regime took the occasion of the Pope’s visit to sweep up dissidents in a wave of arrests. None of that was surprising, but the Pope’s failure to advance the cause of freedom is sad indeed. The photos of him with Fidel and Raul Castro can only have demoralized those struggling and suffering for freedom in Cuba, for the Pope refused to meet with any dissidents at all. Moreover, his remarks were so carefully phrased that, according to press reports, most Cubans did not view them as a call for freedom–whatever the Pope’s intent.

Of course the Pope is not a political figure, but he did rather clearly say he thought the U.S. embargo should end. If it was possible to be clear on that issue, why not on the far more fundamental issue of freedom? I know the Church plays a very long game, in Cuba as in China and everywhere across the globe, and this visit may have gained the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba a bit more freedom for itself to operate. But at what cost? “I’m deeply concerned that the Cuban church has negotiated political space for themselves in exchange for their moral imperative,” Sen. Marco Rubio said this month.

Perhaps the full measure of this papal visit cannot be made yet, and its longer-term impact will be positive. But seen from the week of the visit itself, it was a sad event that did little or nothing to bring moral and religious support to those suffering in the struggle for liberty in Cuba.

Raul Castro Gets Dissed

Here's the video of Cuba's bishops paying their respects to Pope Benedict XVI and to dictator Raul Castro.

The fourth in line is Dionisio Garcia Ibanez, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.

Watch as his disses Raul Castro.

If only his superiors showed such leadership.

An Elitist Archbishop

While hundreds of democracy activists were being violently being beaten, dragged and arrested throughout Cuba, the Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, celebrated a Mass in Havana for 300 Cuban-Americans that paid over $3,000 per person for a VIP tour.

But it wasn't the visual of the Archbishop with his VIP contingent that was the most troubling -- though it's worthy of the worst of stereotypes that have plagued Catholic hierarchies in Latin America for decades.

It was his political theory.

Archbishop Wenski lobbied for the luxury of patience and a "soft-landing" in Cuba -- as if 53 years of a brutal dictatorship were somehow insufficient time.

Ironically, Wenski preached this political model during a homily, which the Church had previously argued was purely for pastoral purposes; and thus, its "inability" to meet and support defenseless dissidents.

(Correction: Since writing this post, the Vatican has clarified that it didn't meet with dissidents out of respect for their tyrannical hosts).

So much for that excuse.

Bewilderingly, for people that claim to be "in-tune" with the reality of regular Cubans on the island, these comments are remarkably out of touch.

Any Cuban on the street will tell you that they want immediate political and economic change -- particularly if they feel safe enough to tell you the truth.

As a matter of fact, recent polling data suggests that well over 80% of Cubans desire immediate political and economic change.

Who doesn't want immediate political and economic change is the Castro dictatorship -- and now apparently the Catholic Church.

Coincidentally, yesterday, former Belarusian President Stanlislau Shushkevich was a guest on my Sirius-XM radio show, "From Washington al Mundo."

For those not familiar with Shushkevich, he was one of three people (along with Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk) who signed the historic Belavezha Accords, which dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.

Asked if he believed in gradual transitions -- or "soft-landings" as per Wenski -- Shushkevich was skeptical.

Even more skeptical was Soviet scholar Fredo Arias-King, editor of the academic quarterly "Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization," who accompanied Shushkevich and recalled that the most successful transitions to democracy were also the most radical, e.g. Estonia, Czech Republic.

Then, there's the overall theme that was repeated -- over and over -- by both the Archbishops of Miami and Rome: Reconciliation.

Sounds beautiful, but here's the question:

Why the misplaced obsession with reconciliation, as opposed to its prerequisite -- freedom?

We stand firmly in support of the reconciliation of all Cubans of good-will -- regardless of race, creed, gender, political or economic status.

But reconciliation requires the will of free people.

Moreover, no one has the slightest doubt that free Cubans will join their skills, talents and resources to build a democratic and prosperous nation. We've done it throughout history.

There's only one obstacle currently standing in the way of reconciliation -- a violent and obtuse dictatorship.

In the same vein, reconciliation defined as accepting Castro's dictatorship and its daily crimes is not reconciliation -- it's accommodation.

And that is not the path to reconciliation. To the contrary, it's the morally unacceptable path to further alienation.

Don't believe me?

Just ask the Ladies in White and the courageous pro-democracy leaders who were denied "a minute" of the Pope's time.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10-12

Imprisoned Cuban-American Warns Travelers

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
The Castro regime has released Jose Ramon Darias, a Cuban-American who traveled to the island in January to visit his terminally ill father-in-law and was arbitrarily imprisoned for 72 days.

Upon his arrival in Miami, Darias had some words of wisdom for fellow Cuban-Americans:

"Let my case serve as an example for Cubans. We need to stop the pipeline of dollars to Fidel Castro, the money is all for Fidel Castro. Everything there works that way. Beware: what happended to me could happen to anyone."

Prior to being released, Cuban state security asked him if he would "behave" the next time he traveled to the island.

Darias replied that he would not be returning.

The Shameful Rationale

In The Miami Herald:

Fielding questions from international media at a press conference after the meeting, [Vatican spokesman Federico] Lombardi said the pope granted a meeting to Fidel Castro — but not to dissidents who had requested the same — out of the church’s respect for its Cuban government hosts.

"When the pope comes to a country... he has to take into account all the requests and suggestions of the authorities... It is the authorities who invited the Holy Father to the country," Lombardi said.

From Today's Diane Rehm Show

You can listen to the spirited discussion here.

From NPR:

Pope Benedict XVI is conducting mass today Havana. Yesterday he met with Cuba’s president, Raul Castro. Today he’s scheduled to meet with his brother, Fidel. The Pope’s three day visit comes at time when Cuban leaders seem to be signaling change: for the first time since the communist revolution private property can be bought and sold legally and 130 prisoners were recently released, but earlier this week, in response to the Pope’s call for a “better society”, Cuba’s economic minister said, "in Cuba, there will be no political reform".


Michael Reid, editor of the Americas section of "The Economist"
Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director, Cuba Democracy Advocates
Wayne Smith, senior fellow, Center for International Policy
Nik Steinberg, researcher, Human Rights Watch

It's Official

The speculation is over.

After multiple efforts by Cuba's Ladies in White and other peaceful pro-democracy leaders, Pope Benedict XVI will not visit with them before departing Cuba.

Instead, the Pope only reserved time for Cuban dictators Raul and Fidel Castro.

UPDATED: Arrests, Threats and Disappearances

Former Cuban political prisoner Iván Hernández Carrillo has revealed the following text being sent by Castro's secret police to pro-democracy activists:

"As soon as the #PapaCuba leaves, we are going to disappear all of you."

As of this morning, the following known pro-democracy activists have been detained:

Pinar del Rio:

1. Yaser Reinoso Ramos

La Habana:

2. Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo
3. Julio León Fonseca
4. Julio Aleaga Pesant
5. William (of the punk rock group Porno para Ricardo)
6. Danilo (of Porno para Ricardo)
7. Ismael de Diego (of Porno para Ricardo)
8. Ciro Diaz (of Porno para Ricardo)
9. Francisco Chaviano González
10. Enrique Losada
11. Julio Vega Santiesteban
12. Roberto Tapia Ferrer
13. Rubén Sanchez Vega
14. Leidi Coca Quesada
15. Omaida Padrón Ascuit
16. Jennifer Fonseca Padrón
17. Karen de Jesús
18. Belkis Felicia Jorrín Morfa
19. Lázara Mitjans Cruz
20. Blanca Hernández Moya
21. Naiyibis Corrales Jiménez
22. Laura Elena Capote Loret de Mola
23. Katia Sonia Martín Veliz
24. Ricardo Salabarría
25. Odalis Caridad Valdés Suárez
26. Raúl Ramírez Puig
27. Gerardo Páez Díaz
28. Ulises Cintra Suárez
29. Jerry Curbelo Aguilera
30. Manuel Cuesta Morúa
31. Alberto Méndez
32. Ivonne Mayeza Galano


33. Leticia Ramos Herrería
34. Emilio Bringas Evora
35. Mercedes de la Caridad De la Guardia
36. José Morejón Morejón
37. José Hernández López
38. Lázaro Díaz Sánchez
39. Francisco Rangel Manzano
40. Ysabel Marrero Burunate
41. Carlos Orlando Olivera Martínez
42. William Acevedo Roque
43. Rubén Montes de Oca
44. Nelson Ruiz Alonso


45. Juan de Dios Medina Vazquez

Santa Clara:

46. Rolando Ferrer Espinosa
47. Maria del Carmen Martinez Lopez
48. Natividad Blanco Carrero
49. Leonardo Rodríguez Alonzo


50. Virgilio Mantilla Arango
51. Elicardo Freire Jiménez
52. Osmani Leonardo Fernández
53. Frank Adán de la Rosa
54. Rudel Montes de Oca Quesada

Las Tunas

55. Ramón Velázquez Toranzo
56. Ismelis Quiñones Ortega


57. Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal
58. Delmides Fidalgo López
59. Mariblanca Ávila Esposito
60. Anni Sarrión Romero
61. Juan Carlos Vázquez Osorio
62. Jorge Luis Freeman Palermo
63. Jorge Luis Claro Velazquez
64. Juan Oriol Verdecia
65. Rafael Meneses Pupo
66. Alexander Cruz
67. Maritza Cardoso
68. Caridad Caballero Batista
69. Marta Díaz Rondón
70. Milagros Leiva Ramírez
71. Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodríguez
72. Eliécer Aranda Matos
73. Yeri Curbelo Aguilera
74. Eliécer Palma Pupo
75. Antonio Caballero Pupo
76. Bernardo Torres Roldán
77. Maira Guerrero Silva
78. Bertha Guerrero Segura
79. Marco Antonio Lima Dalmao
80. Adis Nidia Cruz Sebré
81. Isabel Peña Torres
82. Judith Ferrer Segura
83. Yosvany Anzarda
84. Ariel Cruz Meneses


85. Emiliano González Olivera
86. Yaquelin García Hans

Santiago de Cuba:

87. Misael Valdés Díaz
88. Jorge Cervantes García
89. Guillermo Cobas Reyes
90. Liudmila Rodriguez Palomo
91. Angel Verdecia Díaz
92. Andry Verdecia Osorio
93. Ramón Bolaños Martínez
94. Sergio Lescay Despaigne
95. Maikel Osorio Martínez
96. Rulisán Ramírez Rodríguez
97. Rolando Humberto González Rodríguez
98. Yelena Garcés Nápoles
99. Eduardo Pérez Martínez
100. Armando Sánchez La O
101. Angel Lino Isaac Luna
102. Karina Quintana Hernández
103. Yannai Ferrer Santos
104. Ana Celia Rodriguez Torres
105. José Batista Falcón
106. Miguel Rafael Cabrera Montoya
107. José Enrique Martínez Ferrer
108. Bismark Mustelier Galán
109. Dani López de Moya
110. Luis Ernrique Losada Igarza
111. Mercedes Fernández Fonseca
112. Adriana Figueredo Fernández
113. Yaima Bejerano Díaz
114. Doraisa Correoso Pozo
115. Adriana Núñez Pascual
116. Madelaine Santos Grillo
117. Agustín Ferrer
118. Ovidia Martín Catellanos
119. Yoselin Ferrera Espinosa
120. Jesús Priman Salermo
121. Annia Alegre Pécora
122. Yarisel Figueredo Valdés
123. Omaidis González Leiva
124. Tania Montoya Vázquez
125. Yanelis Elégica Despaigne
126. Vivian Peña Hernández
127. Yunieski Domínguez González
128. Roberto González Feria
129. Ángel Mir Espinosa
130. Alexis Yanchoi Kuán Jerez
131. Anyer Antonio Blanco
132. Eliécer Martínez Ferrer
133. Ovidio Martí Calderín
134. Yoselín Ferrera Espinosa
135. Adriana Rodríguez Fernández
136. Rafael Alvarez Rodríguez
137. Rubén Torres Saínz
138. Yaquelín Baín García
139. Aliana Isaac Lemus
140. Juana Irena Parada
141. Ernesto Roberto Riverit
142. Andrés Pérez Suárez
143. Reinaldo Castillo Martínez
144. Tatiana López Blanco
145. Yesica Casternao Jorrín


146. Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz
147. Roberto González Pelegrín
148. Rodolfo Bartelemy Cobas
149. Isael Poveda Silva
150. Reinier Cubas
151. Randy Caballero Suárez
152. Roneidi Leiva Salas
153. Yordis Sofía Rodríguez
154. Raúl Durán Montero
155. Roberto Quiñones Lores
156. Enyor Díaz Allen
157. Oscar Savón Pantoja
158. Ramón Olivares Abello
160. Rogelio Laborde Rivero
161. Yordis García Fournier
162. Eldri Abello Batista

Under House Arrest:

Pinar del Río

163. Yoel Reinoso
164. Víctor Rodríguez Morejón
165. Raquel Rodríguez Riverón
166. Dianelis Rodríguez Suárez
167. Yoangel Palacios Hernández
168. Luis Enrique Milián
169. Jose Rolando Caceres Soto
170. Adalberto Abascal Quintana
171. Roberto Blanco Gil
172. Raquel Rodriguez Suarez
173. Eduardo Diaz Fleitas

La Habana

174. Jorge Castor Veliz Díaz
175. René Rouco Machín
176. Eriberto Liranza Romero
177. Hermógenes Guerrero Gómez
178. Mayra Morejón Hernández
179. Ignacio Martínez Montero

Villa Clara

180. Yris Pérez Aguilera
181. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”
182. Idania Yánez Contreras
183. Yanisbel Valido Perez
184. Alcides Rivera Rodríguez
185. Librado Linares García
186. Juan Manuel Sarduy Segredo
187. Magaly Broche de la Cruz


188. Caridad Burunate Gómez
189. Regla Burunate Gómez
190. Félix Navarro Rodríguez
191. Sahilí Navarro


192. Cristián Toranzo Fundichely
193. Mildred Nohemí Sánchez Infante
194. Antonio Buenamor Fundichely
195. Wilmer Rivas Marín
196. Yusy Ramírez
197. Eusebio Andrés Martínez Fundichely
198. David Guibert Durán
199. Eliso Castillo González
200. Roilán Ramírez Reinosa
201. Jorge Luis Díaz Marín
202. Rafael Martínez Leiva
203. Andrés Martínez Fundichely
204. Amada Pileta
205. Julio César Ramos Curbelo

Santiago de Cuba:

206. José Daniel Ferrer García
207. Yoandri Fuertes Hernández
208. Wildo Izaguirre Fuentes
209. Belkis Cantillo Ramírez
210. Aymeé Garcés Leiva
211. Marta Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo (minor)
212. Daniela Valcárcel Garcés (minor)
213. Yusmel Acosta Aguilera


214. Jorge Corrales Ceballos
215. Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina

Source: Assembly of the Cuban Resistance

Red Cross Violates Fundamental Principles

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Among the fundamental principles of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are:


In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. Read more about the principle of Neutrality.


The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.

Yesterday, both were thrown out the window.

During Pope Benedict XVI's Mass yesterday in Santiago de Cuba, a Red Cross employee (or a Cuban state security agent dressed in Red Cross garb) attacked a Cuban pro-democracy activist, who was brutally repressed for yelling "freedom" and "down with Communism."

As you can see in the picture below, the Red Cross employee hit the activist over the head with a stretcher.

There should be an immediate investigation.

Pope Speaks, Regime Answers

Pope Benedict XVI said today after praying at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity:

"I have prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty."

And the Castro regime answered, through the Vice President of the Council of State, Manuel Murillo:

"In Cuba, there will not be political reform."

Any questions?

A Good Summary of Day One

From The New York Times:

Pope's call for freedom oddly staged

POPE Benedict XVI has urged Cuba to move towards greater openness, freedom and religious devotion.

"I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons," the Pope said after arriving on the island.

But although Cuban President Raul Castro greeted Pope Benedict at the airport, where he said Cuba's constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, that broadening may take some time.

Many worshippers at a festive Mass in Santiago had been pressured to attend by their employer or a local chapter of the Communist Party, and dissidents were pressured not to attend, according to a Cuban priest among the clerics most critical of the government.

A man who started shouting criticism of the government was quickly removed by security officers.

Pope Benedict's visit comes 14 years after the first papal trip to Cuba by John Paul II, a visit that yielded an era of greater religious expression. It is a delicate time for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, where it has staked out a mediating role between the people and the government.

In 2010, the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, helped negotiate the release of dozens of political prisoners. But others have criticised the church for being too close to the government.

At the airport, the Pope told Cubans to "strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God." He added: "It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: He almost seems to require it."

Human rights groups have been pushing for the Pope to meet dissidents.

The Vatican said no such meetings were scheduled,
but at the airport the Pope said he carried in his heart "the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans," singling out "prisoners and their families."

As an estimated 200,000 people gathered for Mass in Santiago de Cuba, including groups of pilgrims from Miami. With bands playing music and stands selling pizza and soft drinks, it had a pop concert atmosphere - one whose audience has been well orchestrated by the authorities.

Although more than half of all Cubans identify as Catholic, very few regularly attend Mass, while evangelical and Pentecostal churches have grown rapidly on the island, and Santeria, mixing African, Caribbean and other religious elements, is very popular.

Havana's Newest Press Correspondent

According to Penultimos Dias, since the Castro regime refuses to accredit correspondents from Spain's largest daily, El Pais, the newspaper has hired a local journalist already based in Havana.

Her name is Yoani Sanchez.

Kudos to El Pais.

Perhaps this will serve as a lesson for all those "journalists" that have jeopardized their integrity to satisfy their dictatorial hosts.

Update: Here's her first article.

A Courageous Cry for Help

Monday, March 26, 2012
Just prior to this evening's Mass in Santiago de Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI, a courageous young Cuban screamed "freedom" and "down with Communism."

He was immediately detained by Castro's secret police and brutally beaten.

Let's pray the Pope intercedes for his safety and well-being.

Here's his picture:

Blessed Are Those Who Get a Cuban Visa

For they are obviously doing and saying exactly what the Castro dictatorship requires of them for approval.

Or at the very least, the Castro dictatorship believes they'll be "obedient" during their stay.

Note the contrasts.

In McClatchy Newspapers:

Few South Florida journalists given OK to cover papal visit from Cuba

The Cuban government has issued thousands of visas to pilgrims and journalists who want to witness Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the island - but virtually shut out South Florida reporters and photographers.

None of the local Spanish-language television stations, and only one of the English-language broadcasters, received visas. The exception was Local 10 television, which sent anchors Calvin Hughes and Jen Herrera.

Cuba also approved visas for Miami Herald reporter Maureen Whitefield and photographer Pat Farrell - the first approvals since 2005 - but denied requests for reporter Patricia Mazzei and photographer Al Diaz. It did not response to a visa request for interactive editor Nancy San Martin. It also did not respond to requests from Miami Herald sister publication El Nuevo Herald for reporters Juan Tamayo, Al Chardy, Daniel Shoer Roth and videographer Jose Iglesias.

"We are rejected because the South Florida media, and above all the Hispanic media, are permanently reporting on... what the Cuban government refuses to inform on," said Miguel Cossio, editorial and news director at AmericaTeVe Channel 41.

Havana officials have reportedly accredited more than 300 news outlets from around the world, including the mayor U.S. television networks and the Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo chains.

Two visas went to reporters Kevin Hall and Franco Ordonez of the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers, the company that owns the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and 28 other newspapers.

But three leading European newspapers - La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera of Italy and El Pais of Spain - were still awaiting replies to their visa applications on Friday, according to one European journalist.

Most of the entry permits issued to journalists were valid for only a one-week period coinciding with the papal visit. One U.S. reporter said his request to arrive two weeks before the pope so that he could report other stories was turned down.

It is illegal for foreigners to practice journalism in Cuba without a government accreditation, which can be obtained only by those holding a valid journalist's visa.

Havana also expects 5,000 visitors for Benedict's visit in "organized trips" such as pilgrimages - compared to the 10,000 for Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 1998 - plus others travelling individually, according to one Cuba travel analyst.

Miami Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said Cuba denied visas to six persons who applied to join the archdiocese's pilgrimage to attend the papal masses in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Archdiocese officials have said that about 800 applied.

One would-be pilgrim rejected was Robert Royal, a Catholic author and president of the Faith and Reason Institute based in Washington, who told El Nuevo Herald that he has written columns critical of the Cuban government.

Another was Miami exile Marcelino Miyares, who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and now heads the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba.

Among those who received visas were Miami businessman Carlos Saladrigas and several other wealthy Cuban Americans in the Cuba Study Group, a Saladrigas-led group that favors improved U.S.-Cuba relations.

Saladrigas is scheduled to deliver an address Friday, on how "Cubans in the diaspora" can become active in the island's social issues, at the Felix Varela Cultural Center run by the Havana archdiocese.

Castro Cuts SMS and Internet Service

At last week's Google-Heritage Foundation conference, we stressed the importance of creating alternative connectivity networks for the Cuban people.

We argued that it's illusory to think investing in the Castro regime's telecommunications monopoly (ETECSA) would improve connectivity for the Cuban people.

Here's why.

According to Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, as Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cuba, the cell phones of pro-democracy activists have been disconnected.

Moreover, international texts are being blocked.

As for the already limited Internet connectivity -- for tourists and the privileged few that can afford access -- the regime has sent a note advising that:

or technical reasons, the ETECSA company, our Internet provider, said our Internet navigation services would be perturbed since yesterday and last until March 29."

What a "coincidence."

Recommendations for Pope Benedict XVI

By Dr. Teo A. Babun in The Washington Post:

How Pope Benedict could shape religious freedom in Cuba

Fourteen years ago, Pope John Paul II, great champion of freedom and warr against communism, visited the island of Cuba. And Monday, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, will follow suit.

But this pope has the chance to avoid the political traps that diminished the political, if not the spiritual, impact of the visit of the last pope, and to carry on the legacy of his predecessor—who solidified the Catholic Church’s position as the leader of the global cause for religious freedom.

Benedict’s visit comes at a time when the Cuban government is amid an aggressive public relations campaign to present itself as reformist. Last December, the government announced it would be releasing nearly 3,000 prisoners in advance of the pope’s visit. This notice came just a month after the government announced that for the first time since the communist revolution, the purchase and sale of private property would be legal.

Academics and diplomats around the world rejoiced and heralded a new era of change in Cuba. The Cuban exile community and those who know the oppressed nation more intimately knew better than to expect little more than a replay of 1998.

We remember the image of a fatigue-free and ex-communicated Castro greeting the pontiff in a crisp black suit. We recall his brother Raul smiling agreeably in the front rows of the papal Mass as the pope called for “true freedom” and “recognition of human rights and social justice.” We recall a brief period of apparent change that former political prisoner Armando Valladares characterized as “cosmetic,” at best.

In the words of Orlando Marquez, editor of Palabra Nueva, a publication of the Archdiocese of Havana, ”It is as if those five days in January 1998 were an opened and closed parenthesis.”

We recall that after he left, the dark curtain of oppression fell on the sunny island once more and religious oppression only escalated. In the decade and a half since his visit, thousands have been imprisoned in the Castro brothers’ detention centers, and the government retains to this day a tight grip on religious freedom through the government-sanctioned Cuban Council of Churches (CCC). Membership in the council is mandatory for the most rudimentary of rights, such as the right to hold a worship service or make basic repairs to a building, but most religious groups opt not to join, as compliance restricts religious practice just as severely.

From intra-Catholic perspective Pope John Paul II’s trip was a success in planting seeds that have grown into what Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski recently called a “springtime of faith,” a revitalization of Catholic fervor especially notable among Cuban youth, as well as winning broader ground for the Catholic Church to practice more freely and openly without fear of reprisal.

But outside of Catholic circles, the visit fell short of making broader strides for religious freedom, largely because the Castro regime used the visit for an international aren’t-we-actually-so-tolerant horse and pony show.

Benedict should take careful note of what his predecessor’s visit taught us: Papal visits make for great opportunities for shammy public relations campaigns on the part of totalitarian governments.

But there is no reason Raul should get away with keeping the voices of non-Catholic religious leaders and their own faithful revivals and pleas for freedom from the ears of Pope Benedict as Fidel so artfully did with Pope John Paul II. Should the pope desire to make Cuba’s oppressors squirm, he could:

- Meet with the Catholic youth groups in Santiago de Cuba who are advocating for freedom of religion through initiatives not funded by the official Catholic Church,

- Talk to the leaders of the independent evangelical churches, such as the eastern & western Baptists, Los Pinos Nuevos, or the Assemblies of God Conventions who represent the majority of the evangelical protestants in the island but are not allowed to be part of official visits because they are not members of the CCC, and

- Meet with the leaders of the non-government recognized (and therefore illegal) house church movement (Casas de Culto) and hear the grievances endured by the more than 35,000 house churches across Cuba.

While many of these figures do not look to the pope as a doctrinal shepherd, they view him as a shepherd of religious freedom, someone to hear their cries in the wilderness, an intercessor before the Cuban government and the world.

This pope has the opportunity to impact the island nation that has suffered under an atheist and totalitarian government for more than fifty years in that he comes at a time when his church is more vibrant and influential than ever. A Cuban Catholic community hungry for faith creates an energy the pope can channel toward demand for authentic religious freedom. But authenticity demands that the circle be widened beyond the Catholic community to include the marginalized, the de-legitimized, and the silenced. Because when the rights of one religious group are in jeopardy, the rights of all hang in the balance.

The challenge Pope Benedict faces is how to turn a springtime of faith into a springtime of freedom.

Dr. Teo A. Babun, Jr. is the Executive Director of ECHOcuba.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the potential role of foreign policy in the 2012 Presidential elections with the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).

Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz is undoubtedly one of the fastest rising stars in the Democrat Party.

"From Washington al Mundo" is broadcast live on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and rebroadcast Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. (EST).

Arrests, Arrests and More Arrests

From AFP:

At least 70 dissidents have been arrested by Cuban authorities in an effort to stop a demonstration during a visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives Monday, opposition sources said Sunday.

At least 15 of those detained were members of the Ladies in White, a prominent group of wives and family members of jailed political opponents, according to the dissidents.

Former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer told AFP the actions against dissidents began last Tuesday.

"The government wants complete control over the environment of the (pontiff's) masses and is seeking to avoid any incident of protest or opposition," he said.

One of the Ladies in White, Yelena Garces, said she was blocked by police when she tried to attend mass near Santiago.

"They would not let us enter the church, there is no mass this weekend," she said.

Among those arrested are:

In Havana, Sara Marta Fonseca and Julio Leon Perez.

In Pinar del Rio, Yoel Reinoso, Víctor Rodríguez Morejón, Raquel Rodríguez Riverón, Dianelis Rodríguez Suárez, Yoangel Palacios Hernández, Luis Enrique Milián, Jose Rolando Caceres Soto, Adalberto Abascal Quintana, Roberto Blanco Gil, Raquel Rodriguez Suarez and Eduardo Diaz Fleitas.

In Cienfuegos, Juan de Dios Medina Vazquez.

In Santa Clara, Rolando Ferrer Espinosa, Maria del Carmen Martinez Lopez, Yanisbel Valido Perez and Natividad Blanco Carrero.

In Camaguey, Virgilio Mantilla Arango, Elicardo Freire and Osmani González.

In Holguin, Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal, Delmides Fidalgo López, Mariblanca Ávila Esposito, Anni Sarrion Romero, Juan Carlos Vázquez Osorio, Jorge Luis Freeman Palermo, Jorge Luis Claro Velazquez, Juan Oriol Verdecia, Rafael Meneses Pupo, Alexander Cruz and Maritza Cardoso.

In Santiago de Cuba, Misael Valdés Díaz, Jorge Cervantes García, Guillermo Cobas and Liudmila Rodriguez Palomo,

In Guantánamo, Francisco Luis Manzanet, Roberto González Pelegrin, Rodolfo Bartelemy Cobas, Isael Poveda Silva, Reinier Cubas, Randy Caballero Suárez and Roneidi Salas.

Here's a picture of Castro's feared special forces troops as they seek out peaceful pro-democracy activists:

Why Castro Prohibits Social Media

Sunday, March 25, 2012
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Why Socialist Cuba Prohibits Social Media

The regime fears Cuban-to-Cuban chatter even more than it does communication with the outside world.

'There's a reason the people in Cuba don't have access to the Internet. It is because the government [couldn't] survive it."

That was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio last week at a Washington conference titled "Cuba Needs a (Technological) Revolution: How the Internet Can Thaw an Island Frozen in Time." The event was sponsored by Google Ideas, a for-profit venture of the giant Internet search enterprise, and the nonprofit Heritage Foundation. I was asked to kick off things with a Rubio interview. So I began by asking him what he makes of the Cuban military's reference last year to technology that allows young people to exchange thoughts digitally as "the permanent battlefield."

Mr. Rubio responded that it isn't communication with the outside world that the regime fears the most, but Cuban-to-Cuban chatter. "I think Raúl Castro clearly understands that his regime cannot survive a Cuban reality where individual Cubans can communicate [with] each other in an unfettered manner." He called "unfiltered access to the Internet and social media" Cuba's "best hope" of avoiding "a stagnated dictatorship" for "the next 50 years that would survive even the death of Raul and Fidel."

Mr. Rubio would like to see the U.S. go after the goal of turning Cuba into a Wi-Fi hot spot—that is, finding a way to provide wireless Internet access to Cubans so they can both receive and send data in real time. "That's what U.S. policy should really begin to focus on, a 21st-century effort."

It won't be easy with today's technology. While Internet experts tell me it is possible to expand two-way Wi-Fi communications to those that the regime has not approved to use its new fiber optic cable, access would likely be quite limited. Nevertheless, Mr. Rubio's proposal goes to the heart of the Cuban government's vulnerability.

The pope on his visit to Cuba today will see and hear what the military dictatorship wants him to see and hear, not the kind of public debate he would witness in a normal country. He will not see what Mr. Rubio is talking about—emboldened Cuban dissidents who have no use for the "revolution" of a half-century ago and if given access to real-time communications would endeavor to overthrow their oppressors.

"If Cubans were able to communicate with each other, if Cubans in Santiago [de Cuba] were able to figure out what was happening in Havana and vice versa," Mr. Rubio said, there would be a real chance for change. "If these groups were able to link up with one another and coordinate efforts and conversation and so forth, the Cuban government wouldn't last very long. It would collapse under the weight of that reality."

Some of Mr. Rubio's comments suggest that he is over-optimistic about whether technology can create island hot-spots from afar. But if and when it can, there is little doubt that social media would play a role in bringing about change, as it did, for better or worse, in the overthrow of Egypt's Mubarak.

Closer to home, Mr. Rubio pointed out, it has already made a difference. Referring to the tea party movement, he said, "Fifteen years ago if you wanted to organize a group of people to do anything politically, you needed a big, burdensome organization to coordinate it. Today anyone with access to Facebook and Twitter can be an organizer, and it's happening all over this country, it's happening all over the world, and it will happen in Cuba."

Conventional anti-embargo wisdom holds that hordes of Americans traveling to the island would undermine the regime. The pro-embargo crowd, including Mr. Rubio, counters that foreigners, like everything else in Cuba, are tightly controlled. I mentioned that thousands of Americans are already going to Cuba every year on "educational" travel. Mr. Rubio responded dryly: "Conga dancing [and] ethics briefings from the Castro government, that's the itinerary."

It's a good point. "Educational" tourists to Cuba are herded like goats to pre-approved destinations. Their vacation spending goes straight into the pockets of the military and they return home glowing with praise about the literate peasants that they met. U.S. businesses also are now engaged with Cuba, selling all the food and medicine it can pay for. Yet this engagement has done nothing to influence change.

The regime can physically attack public displays of resistance, like the Ladies in White who are beaten by Castro's hired hands. But it would be much tougher to put down protests that go viral. That's why Mr. Rubio wants us to "imagine what would happen if all of a sudden Havana became a Wi-Fi zone."

It's not a bad thought experiment, even without the technology at hand today. As Mr. Rubio said, if the Cuban people get access to the Internet, "the Internet will take care of everything else, I believe that with all my heart." So too do the Castros, judging from the lengths they are going to keep it from happening.

Who Do Sanctions Hurt?

Couldn't have said it better.

From Lithuania's 15min Newspaper:

Former chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich, who came to Vilnius on Wednesday, said concerns that economic sanctions against the Belorussian regime would hurt ordinary people were "rubbish."

According to him, authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko was the one hurting the Belarusian people most.

"This is what I see: reasonable sanctions must be imposed, they are really necessary, and it seems to me that the West knows very well what they have to do. As for moral sanctions - banning judges and prosecutors who work against the Constitution from entering civilized countries - I consider such sanctions fair but far from sufficient to make impact on the regime," Shushkevich told journalists on Wednesday.

"I am not an economist, but when they say that such economic sanctions are undermining lives of ordinary Belorussian people, well that istotal rubbish. The worst things to the Belorussian people are being done by Lukashenko," Shushkevich said during a round-table discussion of Belarusian opposition representatives in Vilnius.

Analyzing This Week's Papal Visit

The American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel entitled, "Hope for Cuba? The Papal Visit, Summit of the Americas, and Cuba’s Future."

Here's the post-event summary:

With Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba just around the corner, a panel of experts gathered at AEI on Thursday to discuss the situation of religious freedom in Cuba as well as the overall state of the Castro regime. Ambassador G. Philip Hughes, senior director of the White House Writers Group, opened the discussion with his observations from his recent trip to Cuba with the Council of American Ambassadors. He expressed doubts about the permanence of economic changes and highlighted the indecision among Cubans regarding the effect of the U.S. embargo. Ambassador Aldona Wos of the Institute of World Politics discussed her experience growing up in communist Poland, including Pope John Paul II’s visit to the nation in 1979. She emphasized the pride, empowerment and vindication that the pope’s visit provided Polish Catholics and expressed hope that Pope Benedict XVI’s visit could have a parallel effect on Cubans. Ambassador Wos also discussed her experience visiting Cuba, and reflected on the state of Cuban health care from the perspective of a former practicing physician. Lastly, Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, spoke about the historical role of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the Castro regime’s inconsistent commitment to economic reform over the years and how recent U.S. policy has affected Cuba. The panelists agreed that a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Cuban dissidents would make an important statement, but they disagreed as to whether such a meeting would actually occur.

It can be viewed here:

Speaking Out Against Evil

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Speaking out against evil

OUR OPINION: Regime’s affronts to the people of Cuba challenge pontiff’s goodwill mission

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cuba on Monday at a moment when the grim reality of living under a dictatorship threatens to overshadow the evangelical nature of his mission. The pope is expected to bring a constructive message about the need for change to a land whose people long for relief, but the Castro regime has already responded with an abundantly clear message of its own: Not interested!

• Amnesty International reports that Cuba maintains a “permanent campaign of harassment” against those demanding respect for civil and political rights. Only the tactics have changed, from long-term detentions to a churning of dissidents, rights activists and independent journalists.

• Around the same time, a shocking video smuggled out of the infamous Combinado del Este prison showed inmates, many accused only of “political” crimes, existing under sub-human conditions. The video offers more evidence that Cuba’s rulers routinely deny basic human rights to all.

• The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom declared that “serious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba despite some improvements.”

The violations include government “interference in church affairs” and controls on “religious belief and practices through surveillance and legal restrictions.”

And there’s more.

The Ladies in White, whose weekly procession after Mass is widely seen as an attempt to create a tiny space for dissidents, have been told that their silent form of opposition will no longer be tolerated. Evidently, their very existence is unacceptable to the state because it gives dramatic evidence of the discontent raging beneath the enforced surface of calm.

The pope is an agent of spiritual renewal. His presence will be welcomed by multitudes of ordinary Cubans who live in fear of the dictatorship and see his moral authority as an antidote to evil.

He cannot afford to ignore these affronts to the dignity of the Cuban people that have been a grim precursor to his visit.

The government’s abrupt removal of protestors who occupied a Havana church to demand human and civil rights last week put the church in an awkward position. In most countries, church authorities patiently wait out the protestors rather than calling the police to invade the sanctuary. But Cardinal Jaime Ortega, by his own account, asked authorities to “invite” the protestors to leave. They were promptly, forcibly ejected by a government goon squad.

A modest improvement in relations between the church and the regime has occurred under Cardinal Ortega. He facilitated the release of more than 120 political prisoners in 2010-2011, but the way the church went about it — pressing prisoners to leave their country for Spain, which is what the regime wanted — put the church on the wrong side of history.

The pope must make it clear that the church will never forsake its mission of defending the downtrodden. In Cuba, it has an obligation to stand up for the rights of dissidents. No improvement in church/state relations is worth an accommodation that calls the church’s moral authority into question.

It is unfair to burden the pontiff with expectations that no one can possibly fulfill about changing the nature of the Cuban regime. But it’s worth recalling the words of Pope John Paul II on his first visit to Haiti. Appalled by inhuman oppression and moved by the hope he observed in the face of ordinary Haitians, he declared forthrightly: “Something must change here.”

So it should be in Cuba.