A Brave Cuban Dissident Near Death

Saturday, September 26, 2015
By Jay Norlinger in The National Review:

A Brave Man Near Death

Readers of National Review are perhaps familiar with the Cuban street artist Danilo Maldonado, whose nickname is “El Sexto.” At the most recent Oslo Freedom Forum, he was a recipient of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

He was not present to receive the award, because he was in prison. He was put there on Christmas Day of last year. His crime was to take two pigs and dub them “Fidel” and “Raúl.” He was inspired to do this by Orwell’s timeless, and ever pertinent, parable Animal Farm.

Since September 8, El Sexto has been on a hunger strike. Hunger strikes by political prisoners are a complicated issue, and I wrote an essay about it several years ago. Suffice it to say that some prisoners feel they can do no other.

Obviously, El Sexto is now very weak, physically. He has written a letter that may be his farewell. It is hard to read. But, of course, worth reading:

"This may be my last letter from here in the punishment cell and if I survive you will hear more from my lips. So I want to tell everyone that I waited too long for this moment to hunger strike, we Cubans have waited too long to expel these rascals.

Now that I started, I feel my faith, determination and self-esteem through the roof for having made this decision. I am proud of being the artist that I am and make art that I do with the Cuba that I represent. So I am willing to give my life a hundred times if necessary.

He who lives without finding that for which to die, has not found the essence of life…

Thank you all for trusting me and know that if I die I will die happy…"

It would be very helpful if the pope said something about El Sexto and other political prisoners. It would be very helpful if the U.S. president did the same. What can you and I do? Well, I suppose I can write a blogpost, but I wish it were much more.

Global Dissidents Ask That Obama Pressure Dictators, Not Coddle Them

By Mike Gonzalez in Forbes:

Global Dissidents Ask That Obama Pressure Dictators, Not Coddle Them

While President Obama was holding a private confab at the White House Thursday night with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to discuss, among other things, his pet project of climate change, dissidents held a public meeting in another part of Washington to demand more attention for a more traditional American priority, the support for democracy and human rights.

Chen Guangcheng from mainland China joined fellow Hong Kong democracy activists Martin Lee, Joshua Wong and Benny Tai at Washington’s Newseum to repeat a message that has so far failed to dissuade President Obama from cozying up to dictators: you can’t trust someone who mistreats his own people. It was a message that, coincidentally, Cuban dissidents were issuing in a desperate call from Havana at the same time.

“Obama should be on the side of the rights of the Chinese people, not on the side of the leader of the Communist Party,” Chen told me, speaking through an interpreter.

Chen was there for the kickoff of a series of events that will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of Freedom House, a Washington think tank that focuses on the promotion of human rights around the world. The opening night was dedicated to the three Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners and their demand that Beijing keep its promises to the territory.

Blown up cables from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt encouraging the start of Freedom House in 1941 were staged on easels throughout the event, poignant reminders of a time when support for human rights and freedom was a bipartisan endeavor.

“The cause of the United States is democracy,” Tai said, adding that it is in U.S. interests to see China become a democracy. “Hong Kong is the place where China can practice democracy.”

A former British colony on the southeastern coast of China, Hong Kong became a part of the mainland in 1997 after Beijing promised that the city would retain a “high degree of autonomy.” Under a system that came to be known as “One Country, Two Systems,” China’s communist leaders also promised that Hong Kong would remain capitalist and would keep such rights as freedom of the press, speech and assembly at least until 2047.

Part of China’s promise was that Hong Kong people would be able to elect their own leader, the Chief Executive, by 2017. However, sometime in 2013 Chinese leaders began to put it about that whoever ran for chief executive would have to not just love China, but “also love the Communist Party” as Wong put it Thursday night.

Later, when Communist leaders insisted candidates would have to be “selected” by a committee made up of Beijing supporters—what Martin Lee termed “Iranian-style democracy, where only the Mullahs decide”—hundreds of thousands of people began to take to the streets of Hong Kong to march in protest. Wong, then only 17, emerged as the leader of what came to be known as the “Occupy Hong Kong” movement.

What they want is support from the world, especially the United States. “We need to get support from the White House,” says Wong. “Hong Kong will continue the fight, but we need support from the world.” President Obama’s statements on Hong Kong’s freedoms, however, have been “very weak,” he added.

This is a point that pro-democracy campaigners the world over bring up. Moral support gives validation to their cause and encourages them to keep fighting impossible odds, though knowing that immediate consequences such as prison or worse are imminent.

Wong, for example, has been charged in Hong Kong with “unlawful assemblies,” “incitement to unlawful assembly,” which could result in up to five years in prison. This “political prosecution,” as Wong rightly terms it, is in keeping with other noticeable deterioration in the territory’s rule of law.

Hong Kong, for example, continued to be the world’s freest economy in The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, a position it has held since the Index’s inception in 1995. Its score was lower than last year, however, as “recent political events appear to have undermined public trust and confidence in the administration.”

This is why it is important that the United States make its moral voice heard. Calls by dissidents around the world for support consistently fall on deaf ears at the White House, where Mr. Obama instead has given validation to dictators from Beijing to Havana.

As fortune would have it, while I was attending the dissidents’ event Thursday night, I received in my inbox a letter from a dissident leader in Havana, Antonio Rodiles from the Cuban movement Estado de Sats, signed by him and 13 other Cuban dissident leaders. The letter made almost exactly the same points the Chinese dissidents were making.

“The United States as a nation has declared time and again its total commitment to the defense of democracy and fundamental liberties,” read the letter, before taking President Obama to task.

Obama, it said, affirms that his policy of opening to the Castro dictatorship “is guided by the values of the Founding Fathers … However, the reality of the current situation contradicts this idea and paints a completely different picture. This unconditional rapprochement has only served to legitimize the longest lived and most destructive dictatorship in the history of the hemisphere, and has served to reinforce the violation of fundamental freedoms.”

The Cuban dissidents called on the U.S. Congress to hold firm and not give in to Mr. Obama by lifting the embargo on the Castros.

Obama and Xi on Friday agreed that neither government would engage in cyberspace espionage and issued a joint statement that “outlined new steps they will take to deliver on pledges made last year to slash their greenhouse gas emissions,” according to Reuters. Obama, according to officials, also hopes to see Raul Castro at U.N. meetings in New York next week. Why he thinks he can trust men who don’t trust their own people is a growing mystery in many capitals.

Letter from Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders to the U.S. Congress

Friday, September 25, 2015
Letter from Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders to the Congress of the United States

It is with profound concern that we implore the Congress of the United States of America to read this letter directed against the strong campaign being waged to unconditionally lift the economic sanctions that weigh upon the Cuban dictatorship.

This campaign seeks to unconditionally lift sanctions with no requirement or guarantee from the dictatorship that it first take a step in the direction of respecting human rights and the promotion of democracy.

We are aware that this campaign is also currently being conducted within the Congress of the United States of America.

We consider it of vital importance that members of Congress know that since last December the repression on our island has escalated. Since the Summit of the Americas held in April, the regime has deployed a renewed campaign of repression, marked by violence and brutality, with the objective of suffocating the opposition movement. This violence has been directed especially towards groups demanding the exercise of basic human rights and that a general amnesty law be decreed that would serve as the initial step toward a process of real changes, such has been the case with the national coalition known as the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, which carries out the #TodosMarchamos campaign for a General Amnesty.

The regime fully opposes these demands, refusing to implement any policy which would have a positive impact on the Cuban people, including economic liberalization. State controls, excessive taxation, corruption, political loyalty, are all factors that are expressly designed to impede the development of micro-enterprises. In contrast, the military elite control the most profitable businesses and establish mixed enterprises with foreign companies. The sole logic of the Castro family and their close allies is to maintain full control of Cuba.

Raul Castro has been emphatic in his speeches and actions: "We will not cede even a millimeter." The Foreign Minister of the dictatorship emphasized it clearly in Washington: "The changes already occurred in 1959."

The United States as a nation has declared time and again its total commitment to the defense of democracy and fundamental liberties. The president affirms that his present policy is guided by the values of the founding fathers and that reestablishing relations will help create a greater responsibility for the regime in the topic of the respect for human rights. However, the reality of the current situation contradicts this idea and paints a completely different picture. This unconditional rapprochement has only served to legitimize the longest lived and most destructive dictatorship in the history of the hemisphere, and has served to reinforce the violation of fundamental freedoms.

The lifting of the embargo, as proposed by the current administration, will permit the old ruling elite to transfer their power to their political heirs and families, giving little recourse to the Cuban people in confronting this despotic power. Totalitarian communism will mutate into a totalitarian state adopting minimal market reforms that will serve only to accentuate the existing social inequality in the midst of an increasingly uncertain future.

Within the Cuban Catholic Church some representatives have played a fundamental role in these political developments. Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been a key actor, who regrettably, has on multiple occasions denigrated the work of the democratic opposition and denied the existence of political prisoners on the island.

Pope Francis has demonstrated that he is in favor of this policy and has played a key role in this process. His recent visit has demonstrated that the regime will continue oppressing and perpetrating violent abuses with no respect for the dignity of human beings. Silence before these criminal acts is a detriment to the Cuban people. The dictatorship continues gaining time and entitlements.

Accepting the primacy of this false pragmatism before a real commitment with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Cuban nation is a troubling position. We address ourselves with all due respect to the Congress of the United States, and implore you to support the cause of democracy in Cuba and not a mistaken policy that can cause a profound harm to our nation. If a coherent policy does not exist toward the regime, we Cubans will pay a greater price on our path toward the democratization of our nation.

Angel Moya
Former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience
Cuban Liberty and Democracy Movement

Raul Borges
Christian Democratic Unity Party

Hugo Damian Prieto
Civic Action Front

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez"
Former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience
National Resistance Front

Jose Diaz Silva
Movement for a New Republic

Felix Navarro
Former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience
Democratic Party

Berta Soler
The Ladies in White

Antonio Rodiles
Estado de Sats

Egberto Escobedo
Political Prisoner Association of Cuba

Damaris Moya
Central Democratic Coalition

Guillermo Farinas Hernandez
Sakharov Prize recipient
United Anti-Totalitarian Front

Roberto Rodriguez Lobaina
Eastern Democracy Alliance

Angel Santiesteban Prats

Gorki Aguila Carrasco

A Farewell Letter From Imprisoned Cuban Artist (on Hunger Strike) "El Sexto"

A Farewell Letter From El Sexto

Valle Grande Prison
September 16, 2015

Where I am there is little light. I’m in pants for not wanting to wear the prison uniform. They give me a mattress for 5 or 6 hours at night. I drink only water and no there will not be possibilities to respond (from you all to this letter) as to avoid burning contacts.

Thanks to Lia, to Gorky, Antonio and everyone for helping my mom to manage things. Thanks to Aylín for the beautiful and encouraging letters. I read them as many times as I could. I would like to write you a thousand letters as you deserve but now I do not think I will have the light, paper or energy to do it.

This may be my last letter from here in the punishment cell and if I survive you will hear more from my lips. So I want to tell everyone that I waited too long for this moment to hunger strike, we Cubans have waited too long to expel these rascals.

Now that I started, I feel my faith, determination and self-esteem through the roof for having made this decision. I am proud of being the artist that I am and make art that I do with the Cuba that I represent. So I am willing to give my life a hundred times if necessary.

He who lives without finding that for which to die, has not found the essence of life. A man with ideals of peace, love and that does not carry a weapon to assert his criterion is the man of the future. Because with his faith, his hope builds Eden on earth.

Thank you all for trusting me and know that if I die I will die happy to take with me a scratch of my time like Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, who left traces of their existence, of their generation, of their responsibility to leave behind a legacy after their own, one lesson: to love what you do and devote your life to it.

I was born in a poor neighborhood, Nuevitas, Camagüey. My family is very humble: I lived in Arroyo Arenas from 4 years old; in Chafarinas, Guira de Melena; Covadonga, Las Tunas currently a field without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas, La Lisa. And I was lucky to live in Vedado often, there I have my daughter Renata María, who was born in England.

I am a wanderer and I rode back and forth a bit getting to know my country, my culture, and I love that I raise my voice to denounce what I find wrong. I visited Holland for three months, I lived in The Hague, 45 minutes by train from fabulous Amsterdam. I studied and lived in Miami Dade College, United States for 3 months as well. All these places taught me to relate to my surroundings quickly, that the most important thing is to have friends, to love, respect and to not do to anyone what we would not want them to do to us. I learned how to stand up against the powerful.

My art is respected today more than anything because I believe in it. I respected it and gave it ─ and still give it─ all my strength, perseverance, affection and love. Although I was misunderstood and perhaps to others still am, when those around you see how much you love and how much you are able to give and how much you respect your art and the alien, then they begin to value it. But first one must erect an altar in one’s chest of consecration and the others little by little will begin respecting what one does: this recognition is my legacy.

Someone said that all of humanity will part when we see a man who knows where he is going. This might be my last work and I have named it “Drawing Attention” or “The Awakening of the Inner Magician.” Each of us has an inner magician. May my gothic existence touch your to chests and ignite your calling and awaken that inner leader, be conscious of this gift of life and stand up against evil. Someone said “the world is not the way it is because of those who do evil but because of those who allow it.”

This piece is dedicated to my mother, my little daughter Renata María, to all those who support me, all that put in a grain of sand to achieve the freedom of Cuba. To all the Ladies in White of the world especially those in Cuba: no more beating of women! In memory of Laura, Oswaldo, Zapata.

The day I grabbed a spray in my hand I decided what to do with my life.

So be it.

I am with faith and conviction: Liberty or death, dying for art is living.


Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto.

El Sexto is on hunger strike since September 8th. He is reclaiming his freedom for being jailed since December 25th (of last year) for considering to release some pigs with the names of Fidel and Raul, which he never released because he was imprisoned. He is in jail without trial or sentence or justice.

Over 250 Cuban Dissidents Arrested During Pope Francis' Visit

Via Breitbart:

Dissident Group: 250+ Cubans Arrested During Pope Francis Visit

As the Cuban government begins to free dissidents, imprisoned to keep them from potentially disrupting Pope Francis’s visit with their presence, dissident organizations are releasing statistics on just how many people were arrested.

One organization reports that between 250-300 people were detained for their political beliefs, just in case they had planned to express them around the Pope.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a pro-democracy group, issued a press release today listing 142 members of its organization that had been detained during Pope Francis’s visit to the country. According to the release, while many were arrested all around the island, 105 people were arbitrarily arrested in Santiago de Cuba, which Pope Francis visited on his last day in Cuba. Santiago is on the eastern end of the island, far from Havana. The other members were arrested in western Pinar del Río, Habana, Holguín, and Guantánamo. Many of those arrested reported being physically assaulted by police.

“If 142 UNPACU members have been arrested, the total number of those detained from different organizations should be around 250 to 300 activists,” the group estimates.

In addition to UNPACU members, at least 24 members of the Cuban Ladies in White group—composed of predominantly Catholic female relatives of political prisoners—were detained during the Pope’s Mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The leader of the organization, Berta Soler, reports being “dragged by the hair and neck” into a car by policemen, who later hurt her hands as punishment for attempting to attend the Mass.

Soler and other dissident members were allegedly invited to meet with Vatican officials, according to spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, who said he “did not know” why they did not attend a meeting while the Pope was in Cuba. Pope Francis himself said that he “did not know” and had “no news regarding detentions.”

“The Pope did not utter a phrase of solidarity with the victims of repression and, when traveling from Cuba to the United States, told the press that he did not know about the detention of pacifist dissidents,” the UNPACU press release reads. It notes that one UNPACU member, Zaqueo Báez, was arrested in front of Pope Francis. “While they [Pope Francis and Báez] spoke, event security tackled Zaqueo Báez strongly and tore him violently away from the Pontiff, ending thus his conversation with the Pope. The Pontiff… saw in first person how he was violently expelled and detained along with three other UNPACU activists.”

Another 50 dissidents were arrested last week, before the Pope’s visit, in anticipation of any protest plans they may have had. Most arrests occurred following the individuals’ leaving Catholic Mass on Sunday.

Chairman Duncan to Obama: Uphold and Defend U.S. Laws (Cuba Sanctions) in U.N.

Thursday, September 24, 2015
Congressman Jeff Duncan Urges U.S. Delegation to United Nations to Uphold U.S. Sovereign Law

U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, sent the following letter to Ambassador Samantha Power regarding reports that the U.S. delegation to the United Nations might refuse to oppose a resolution offered by Cuba that demands the end of the U.S.-Cuba embargo as outlined in U.S. law, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996:

September 23, 2015

The Honorable Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
The United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

Dear Ambassador Power,

I write to respectfully urge you to uphold and defend the laws of the United States as they relate to the U.S.-Cuba embargo. I have received concerning reports that for the first time in 23 years, the U.S. delegation to the United Nations may abdicate its sovereign responsibility to uphold and defend U.S. interests as enshrined in U.S. law by abstaining, instead of voting against, on a resolution demanding the end of U.S.-Cuba embargo as outlined in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (Libertad/Helms-Burton).

As the Co-Chair of the House Sovereignty Caucus, I am deeply disturbed that the U.S. delegation to a multilateral body could consider choosing not to affirm the sovereign laws of the United States. Irrespective of whether one agrees with the U.S.-Cuba embargo, it remains the law of the land in our country. For the U.S. delegation to refrain from exercising its responsibility to defend our country’s interests as articulated by our laws in the face of overt, sustained international criticism is to effectively undermine the rule of law in our country, the foundation for our modern political order, and the American principles for which we stand.

Furthermore, should the U.S. delegation to the United Nations refuse to support longstanding U.S. law in a multilateral forum, I am concerned about the ramifications this would have on U.S. foreign policy. After all, if the Administration does not uphold the rule of law to the world in an organization such as the United Nations, what legitimacy will the United States have to urge other countries around the world to respect the rule of law and democracy? What will this do to the pursuit of freedom around the world?

The issue before you is whether to uphold and defend the laws of the United States before the United Nations’ General Assembly. Regardless of differing political views on the U.S.-Cuba embargo, our modern political order depends upon a strong rule of law. With this in mind, I respectfully urge you to vote against any resolution that demands a change to U.S. law or that seeks to prevent the application of current U.S. law related to the US.-Cuba embargo.

Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC-03)

Editorial Cartoon: Pope Leaves Cuba, Doesn't Look Back

Who Will Speak for China's (Cuba's) Dissidents?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Any well-intentioned supporter of Obama's new Cuba policy should read the following op-ed very carefully.

It proves how unconditional engagement, business and academic exchanges don't improve the behavior of brutal regimes.

To the contrary, it lowers the principles, standards and behavior of our own government, companies and universities.

By Suzanne Nossel in The Los Angeles Times:

Who will speak for China's dissidents?

The Chinese government is tightening its stranglehold on dissent as it tries to steady its swooning currency and economy. Since July, Beijing has rounded up at least 270 human rights lawyers and activists, some of whom have now been missing for months. In recent weeks the Ministry of Public Security has targeted nearly 200 people for "spreading rumors" about China's plunging stock market and paraded a noted journalist on state-run television with a supposed "confession" that his unsubstantiated reporting led to market dips.

Yet as the pressure on dissenters has mounted, criticism from around the world has been muted. And when Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington this month for his first state visit, there's reason to worry that President Obama will hold his tongue. Word that the Secret Service plans to close off Lafayette Park to demonstrators during Xi's visit sends the wrong signal.

Over the last 10 years, Beijing has made shrewd use of its massive domestic consumer market, global infrastructure investments and cultural budgets to stifle reproach from governments and private institutions alike.

Indeed, with every large, global American bank, corporation, museum and university now compelled to have its own "China strategy," many of those that previously might have been outspoken on rights are now beholden to Beijing.

Last month, the American Bar Assn., for example, could muster only a tepid statement responding to the escalating roundup of lawyers, stating that "development of a just rule of law is a continuing struggle in every nation, including the United States." Critics cited this mealy-mouthed language as designed to not jeopardize collaborations with Chinese government-linked bar associations, judges and others.

University presidents and law school deans also have been mum on the crackdown, perhaps because 274,000 Chinese students attended U.S. universities in 2013-14, adding an estimated $22 billion to the U.S. economy. There are nearly 100 U.S. university campuses that operate "Confucius Institutes" in partnership with the Chinese, with Beijing-approved instructors teaching Chinese language and culture. Some top universities, including NYU and Duke, have launched major partnerships with Chinese universities, all with significant Chinese government funding. Western academics who criticize China can find themselves shut out from visas and conference invitations.

The media are not immune. After Bloomberg published an expose in 2012 of corruption among Beijing's ruling elite, the Chinese government cut purchases of the firm's lucrative financial terminals. Some in the newsroom claim that subsequent corruption coverage was curbed. In 2014, Bloomberg's chairman said in a speech that "we probably … should have rethought" far-reaching exposes that deviated from the company's core coverage of business news.

Even Google, which withdrew from China in 2010 because of its inability and unwillingness to accommodate Chinese censorship across its service, is reportedly working on a version of the Google Play app that will comply with Chinese strictures on speech. Last week Beijing declared new rules that U.S. tech companies must uphold if they want to do business in China, including storing their data in country and, ominously, "accept[ing] supervision from all parts of society."

Hollywood directors also strive to stay on Beijing's good side. Some vet potentially controversial scenes with Chinese censors to make sure their action films won't be barred from the world's second-largest film market.

Other countries succumb to these pressures too. South Africa, which counts China as its largest import source, was accused of "selling its sovereignty" when it acceded to Chinese objections and canceled a planned summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners in honor of Nelson Mandela rather than grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.

In the past, the West often raised human rights concerns with the Chinese. Even though such exchanges might seem fruitless, Chinese dissident writers, editors and lawyers insist the mentions are in fact essential for their protection and help subtly shape the Chinese debate.

Obama ought to keep that in mind when he meets with Xi. Now at a stage of his presidency in which he is trying to establish a legacy for history, he should use forceful language, mentioning key dissidents such as Ilham Tohti and Liu Xiaobo by name, calling out the relentless persecution of ethnic minorities and pressing Beijing to loosen restrictions on the media and the Internet. As the number of voices willing to speak out dwindles, each one becomes more important. If the U.S. president won't lead the defense of liberal values in the face of China's challenge, it is not clear that anyone else will.

Western university presidents, like-minded governments, newsroom executives and studio moguls need to hear that doing business with the Chinese should not mean caving in to Beijing. If they stiffened their spines collectively, the Chinese would have little choice but to adapt.

After blind Chinese rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in 2012, he said that he sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy because "if you look around the world, even though the U.S. is sometimes weak in the face of dictators, it's still the best defender of freedom." Obama should make it clear that the U.S. will live up to the faith invested in it by Chen and scores of Chinese dissidents.

Cubans Know Reconciliation, It's Freedom They Seek

During Pope Francis' visit to Cuba, there was a great deal of rhetoric about reconciliation.

It's a favorite talking point of Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski and others who seek to distract from the real problem facing the Cuban people -- the lack of freedom.

From 1959 to this very day, each generation of Cuban exiles has consistently opened their homes, schools and businesses to the most recent group of arrivals -- irrespective of their previous social status or political beliefs.

As a matter of fact, such unity and solidarity has been the secret of the Cuban exile community's success.

Free Cubans throughout the world know, understand and practice reconciliation.

The backward concept of "reconciliation without freedom" has sadly served as a convenient ruse for the Castro dictatorship itself.

After all -- if free Cubans throughout the world know, understand and practice reconciliation -- then what is truly being advocated is reconciliation with a regime that continues to murder, torture and imprison innocent people (even during Papal visits).

Thus, it's disingenuous -- and counter-productive -- to talk about reconciliation without freedom.

Even the 20th century's greatest proponent of national reconciliation, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, stressed:

"Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts."

That's why national reconciliation in South Africa took place pursuant to the end of apartheid.

In Germany, it took place pursuant to the collapse of the East's police state.

So why is Cuba the only case in which reconciliation is disingenuously argued before freedom -- as if Cuba's problem was among its people, rather than with its dictatorship?

In his epic 1963 Encyclical Letter, Pacem in Terris ("Peace on Earth"), Pope John XXIII identified the essential conditions for peace in four precise requirements of the human spirit: truth, justice, love and freedom.

That is precisely what the Cuban people seek.

In Cuba, the Pope Lacked Clarity

It's a shame -- to put it kindly -- that Spanish-speaking Pope Francis has been the Pope to speak with the least clarity -- also to put it kindly -- in Spanish-speaking Cuba.

His hear-no-evil, see-no-evil response -- during a press briefing on the flight to Washington, D.C. -- to a question on the arrest of Cuban dissidents caped off an already disappointing visit.

From Time:

"Pope Francis also denied knowledge of dissidents who were arrested trying to meet him. Asked if he had wanted to meet dissidents in Cuba, and what he would have wanted to say to them, the Pope demurred, declining to answer hypothetical questions. Reports have indicated that some 50 dissidents were arrested outside the Holy See’s embassy where Pope Francis stayed in Havana. Pope Francis added that he declined numerous requests for private audiences, including those from heads of state."

Quote of the Week: What Pope Francis Ignored in Cuba

The [Pope's] talk about the glory of God in heaven, but say nothing about the hell for us on earth. 
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), which had over 100 members arrested during Pope Francis' visit, Reuters, 9/21/15.

In Havana, Pope Francis is no John Paul II

By Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute:

In Havana, Pope Francis is no John Paul II

This morning, the Washington Post editorial delivers a scathing review of Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba:

"The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts….

Dozens of other dissidents were detained when they attempted to attend an open air Mass. They needn’t have bothered: The pope said nothing in his homily about their cause, or even political freedom more generally. Those hunting for a message had to settle for a cryptic declaration that 'service is never ideological.'"

To see how right this assessment is, contrast Pope Francis’s homily in Havana with that of Pope John Paul II 17 years earlier. (I was in the crowd in Havana on January 25, 1998, when the Holy Father delivered his moving message of solidarity with the oppressed people of Cuba).

In his homily, John Paul mentioned “freedom” 17 times and “justice” 13 times.

In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once.

Here is what John Paul said back then:

"While times and situations may change, there are always people who need the voice of the Church so that their difficulties, their suffering, and their distress may be known. Those who find themselves in these situations can be certain that they will not be betrayed, for the Church is with them and the Pope, in his heart and with his words of encouragement, embraces all who suffer injustice."

After a long burst of applause, the Holy Father said:

"I am not against applause because when you applaud the Pope can take a little rest!

…'The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives… to set at liberty those who are oppressed' (Lk 4:18)…. A freedom which is not based on truth conditions man in such a way that he sometimes becomes the object and not the subject of his social, cultural, economic and political surroundings; this leaves him almost no initiative for his personal development. At other times that freedom takes on an individualistic cast and, with no regard for the freedom of others, imprisons man in his own egoism. The attainment of freedom in responsibility is a duty which no one can shirk. For Christians, the freedom of the children of God is not only a gift and a task, but its attainment also involves an invaluable witness and a genuine contribution to the journey towards the liberation of the whole human race. This liberation cannot be reduced to its social and political aspects, but rather reaches its fullness in the exercise of freedom of conscience, the basis and foundation of all other human rights."

To the crowds who were shouting: “The Pope is free and wants us all to be free,” the Holy Father replied:

"Yes, he lives with that freedom for which Christ has set you free….

The Church’s social doctrine is meant to be a reflection and a contribution which can shed light on and reconcile the relationship between the inalienable rights of each individual and the needs of society, so that people can attain their profound aspirations and integral fulfillment in accordance with their condition as sons and daughters of God and citizens in society."

John Paul was even more explicit a day earlier, during his homily in Santiago de Cuba, where he mentioned “freedom” 14 times, declaring:

"The Church calls everyone to make faith a reality in their lives, as the best path to the integral development of the human being, created in the image and likeness of God, and for attaining true freedom, which includes the recognition of human rights and social justice. In this regard, lay Catholics — holding to their specific role as lay persons so that they may be “salt and leaven” in the midst of the society of which they are part — have the duty and the right to participate in public debate on the basis of equality and in an attitude of dialogue and reconciliation. Likewise, the good of a nation must be promoted and achieved by its citizens themselves through peaceful and gradual means. In this way each person, enjoying freedom of expression, being free to undertake initiatives and make proposals within civil society, and enjoying appropriate freedom of association, will be able to co-operate effectively in the pursuit of the common good.

The Church, immersed in civil society, does not seek any type of political power in order to carry out her mission; she wishes only to be the fruitful seed of everyone’s good by her presence in the structures of society. Her first concern is the human person and the community in which the individual lives; she is well aware that actual people with all their needs and aspirations constitute her primary path. All that she claims for herself she places at the service of people and society. For this reason Christ charged her to bring his message to all peoples, and for this she needs sufficient freedom and adequate means. Defending her own freedom, the Church defends the freedom of each individual, of families, of different social units, which are living realities with a right to their own sphere of autonomy and sovereignty."

Pope Francis said nothing even resembling this during his Cuban visit. He is not expected to be so reticent during his visit to Washington. But then, as the Post correctly notes, “it takes more fortitude to challenge a dictatorship than a democracy.”

WaPo Editorial: Pope Francis Appeases Castros in Repressive Cuba

Monday, September 21, 2015
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Pope Francis appeases the Castros in repressive Cuba

In his visit to the United States beginning Tuesday, Pope Francis will meet not just President Obama and Congress but also those marginalized by our society: homeless people, immigrants, refugees and even the inmates of a jail. He’s expected to raise topics that many Americans will find challenging, such as his harsh critique of capitalism. His supporters say it’s all part of the role the pope has embraced as an advocate for the powerless, one that has earned him admiration from both Catholics and some outside the church.

How, then, to explain Pope Francis’s behavior in Cuba? The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts.

Pope Francis met with 89-year-old Fidel Castro, who holds no office in Cuba, but not with any members of the dissident community — in or outside of prison. According to the Web site 14ymedio.com, two opposition activists were invited to greet the pope at Havana’s cathedral Sunday but were arrested on the way. Dozens of other dissidents were detained when they attempted to attend an open air Mass. They needn’t have bothered: The pope said nothing in his homily about their cause, or even political freedom more generally. Those hunting for a message had to settle for a cryptic declaration that “service is never ideological.”

Sadly, this appeasement of power is consistent with the Vatican’s approach to Cuba ever since Raúl Castro replaced his brother in 2006. Led by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the church committed to a strategy of working with the regime in the hope of encouraging its gradual moderation. The results have been slight. Cardinal Ortega obtained Raúl Castro’s promise to release all political prisoners, but arrests have continued and dissident groups say the number of jailed is now above 70. One leading Christian dissident, Oswaldo Payá, was killed in a suspicious 2012 auto crash.

The Vatican’s greatest success has been the adoption of its strategy by the Obama administration, which has also restored relations with the Castros while excluding the political opposition. Here, too, there have been disappointing results. U.S. exports to Cuba, controlled by Havana, have declined this year, while arrests of opponents have increased, along with refu­gees. Many Cubans are trying to reach the United States ahead of what they fear will be a move by the Obama administration to placate the regime with a tightening of asylum rules.

Pope Francis may believe that merely by touring the country he will inspire Cubans to become more active and press the regime for change. But two previous papal visits, in 1998 and 2012, did not have that effect. By now it is clear that the Castros won’t be moved by quiet diplomacy or indirect hints. A direct campaign of words and acts, like that Pope Francis is planning for the United States, would surely have an impact. But then, it takes more fortitude to challenge a dictatorship than a democracy.

Though U.S. Remains Shamefully Silent on Cuba's Repression, Pope Should Speak Up

By Kristina Arriaga in USA Today:

Cuban dissidents long to hear Pope Francis preach religious liberty

Although U.S. remains shamefully silent about Cuban suppression of speech and worship, Pope Francis should speak up while world listens.

Like any pair of dictator-bullies, the Castro brothers can freely make jokes and speak about others, but will detain, beaten up, censor or imprison anyone who dares to do the same about them. This should come as no surprise. Fidel’s first dictatorial act against free journalism came in 1959 when he started by muzzling, not the main newspaper of Cuba, but Zig-Zag, the weekly Cuban version of Mad magazine, which had dared to run its first (and last) cartoon of Fidel.

Apparently this kind of free speech is something we as Americans should no longer find worthy of defense in Cuba. While we rightly grieved in solidarity with many nations for the murdered cartoonists and journalists of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, inspiring “Je suis” pins, posters and Facebook postings, our government has remained silent when Cuban journalists, artists and writers have been censored and imprisoned.

For instance, mum has been the word when it comes to the arrest of young Cuban graffiti artist, “El Sexto.” According to reports smuggled out of Cuba, El Sexto, who has a wife and infant daughter, was imprisoned last December on a charge of contempt for having tried to carry out a performance with two pigs painted with the names of “Fidel” and “Raul.” Months after his arrest he has not been taken before a court. A few weeks ago according to his mother, he went on a hunger strike.

El Sexto’s type of dissidence and civil disobedience is something Americans would not have stood for had it happened in the U.S. in the 1960s or in South Africa during Apartheid. And yet, the U.S. remains silent. It also remains silent in the case of African-Cuban doctor Oscar Elias Biscet, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who has been imprisoned multiple times for his peaceful protests against the Castro regime. He has endured over 11 years of prison and has lost most of his teeth due the beatings and the horrible conditions in the gulags of the island. For all the claims the Castro regime has made in defense of the black population in Cuba, many of its bravest dissidents are black including Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, a defiant group of Cuban women who dress in white and walk together to mass on many Sundays. This summer they were the victims of several brutal beatings.

Artists and journalists such as Cuban exiled novelist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and Time magazine-lauded blogger, Yoani Sanchez, who still dares to live in Havana, have consistently tried to appeal to the world and to our government for freedom of speech as the virtues of openness between the U.S. and Cuba continue to be universally extolled. But to no avail.

Our government remains silent, or at most, will tweet its disappointment at arrests here and there but continues forging ahead with a plan that will benefit the Castro thugs but not the people of Cuba. This month these dissidents hope, as do I, that while Pope Francis remains in Cuba, he will call for freedom of speech and of worship, and for the kind of openness that his Polish predecessor, Pope John Paul II spoke about frequently when, in 1998, he was the first Pontiff to visit the island. They hope that Pope Francis will recall his own experiences in Argentina and will extend the hand of solidarity to those who lack a voice.

They hope, against all hope, that the Pope will disavow the strange and inaccurate words of Cuban Cardinal and Havana Archbishop, Jaime Ortega, who recently stated that there were no political prisoners in Cuba while 60 dissidents languished in prison. They hope for the Spanish version of the Hebdo “Je suis:” They hope to hear the Pope say: “Yo, yo tambien soy cubano.” “I, too am Cuban.” And invite the rest of the world to do the same with El Sexto, with Berta and the Ladies in White, with Dr. Biscet, with Yoani and with so many others who have earned and richly deserve the world’s solidarity.

Kristina Arriaga is executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

CNN Interview: On Pope Francis' Visit to Cuba

CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone discussed Pope Francis' visit to Cuba on CNN en Español today.

Click here to watch.

FPI Bulletin: A Blind Eye Toward Freedom in Cuba

By Ellen Bork of The Foreign Policy Initiative:

A Blind Eye Toward Freedom in Cuba

On Friday, President Obama spoke with President Raúl Castro by telephone, to discuss the latest set of restrictions on trade to be lifted by the White House. Meanwhile, Cuban authorities arrested more than five dozen activists before and during a papal visit to the island, said José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Cuba’s largest dissident organization. These arrests are the latest indication that the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba is a one-sided affair that will legitimize the Castro brothers’ dictatorship without bringing liberty to the Cuban people.

The president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council described the recent changes to U.S. policy as “seismic”. American companies will now be able to business directly in Cuba, whether by creating subsidiaries or opening offices there. Americans will also be able to open bank accounts in Cuba. In addition to a number of American firms, the primary beneficiary of these changes will be the Cuban regime, not private enterprise. According to Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, “Every single trade and commercial transaction with Cuba has to be done through an entity owned and operated by the Cuban dictatorship.”

Rather than diminishing, there has been an increase in detentions over the course of this year. In August, there were 768 arrests, the highest monthly tally for 2015, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Sometimes, senior American officials acknowledge what is happening. In response to the round-up prior to the Pope’s visit, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, tweeted about the arrests, adding that they amounted to “disappointing business as usual for the Cuban government.” Yet such candor is the exception, not the rule.

In other cases, the White House has not simply closed its eyes to the regime’s oppression, but refused to acknowledge the dissidents’ existence. When the U.S. Embassy in Havana was reopened with a flag-raising ceremony on August 14, the U.S. chose not to invite any dissidents. Implausibly, Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the ceremony was a “government-to-government affair,” with no space for members of civil society. The editors of the Washington Post responded, “Inviting the dissidents would be a demonstration to Raúl and Fidel Castro of what the flag stands for … Not inviting them is a sorry tip of the hat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control and rule by fear.”

For its part, Havana does not even pretend to be changing. Cuban officials say engagement with the US will not change the country’s policies by so much as “a millimeter.”  “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda in conversations with the United States,” said Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, in an interview with Reuters.  However, in important respects, Washington is willing to pretend that Havana is changing. In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department unexpectedly upgraded Cuba from Tier 3 – reserved for the worst offenders – to the Tier 2 watch list.  According to the Department’s annual report, countries on the watch list must launch “significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance” with anti-human trafficking standards. Previously, Cuba spent 12 consecutive years languishing in Tier 3.

The Obama administration also removed Cuba from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. U.S. law allows for this change if Cuba has not supported terrorism in the previous six months and provides assurances it will not do so in the future.  Havana maintains it should never have been on the list in the first place.

The significance of Cuba’s removal from the terrorism list is chiefly as a stepping-stone toward diplomatic relations and the eventual lifting of the embargo.  The new opening for U.S. firms to conduct business in Cuba is part of this strategy. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), articulated the administration’s rationale: “As we get more and more complex exceptions and rules and regulations, it just becomes more obvious that we have to lift the embargo.” However, an end to the embargo depends on either congressional action or the coming to power of a democratically elected government in Cuba.

President Obama’s behavior indicates his apparent belief that the U.S. should give up its economic and political leverage before receiving any assurances that democracy will one day come to Cuba.  He justifies this approach by citing the examples of normalized U.S. relations with China and Vietnam. However, what those examples show is that diplomatic and economic openings may strengthen the ruling party rather than creating pressure for it to respect human rights and personal liberties. Both China and Vietnam remain one-party dictatorships decades after the U.S. expanded its commercial and diplomatic ties.  Both have been able to build up their militaries and upgrade their repressive apparatuses. Only by insisting on a linkage between opening and reform can the U.S. secure a better outcome for the people of Cuba.

Testifying before Congress in February, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski stated: “The nature of the Cuban regime has not changed and we have not claimed so. … I have no indication that they have any desire to become our partner … That's not the way this works in any authoritarian state.”

So how does it work? The administration hopes that a taste of prosperity will create an ever-growing appetite in Cuba for economic—and then political—freedom. Yet there is no reason to believe that Cubans lack such an appetite. Rather, they lack the means to confront an entrenched dictatorship that will employ violence to preserve its power.  By legitimizing and enriching that dictatorship, the Obama administration’s policy will only make the dissidents’ struggle even harder.

While the administration seems fully committed to a policy of rapprochement without conditions, Congress should defend the principle inscribed in U.S. law, that a restoration of freedom is the essential prerequisite for lifting the American embargo. In the meantime, Congress should expose the false premise of the administration’s policy toward Cuba while pressuring both the White House, as well as the Castros, to respect the Cuban people’s inalienable rights.

Tweeting Truth About Pope Francis in Cuba

By Washington Post editorial writer, Chuck Lane:

Why Did Obama Provide Castro a Distraction Ahead of Pope's Visit?

The Obama Administration was keenly aware of the Castro regime's repressive buildup ahead of Pope Francis' arrival.

On Saturday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, even tweeted how the arrest of members of The Ladies in White, other democracy activists and even the homeless, was "disappointing business as usual for the Cuban government."

So much for Obama's "what change looks like" in Cuba.

Thus, why would the Obama Administration release a new set of business-related regulations -- that could have been released any other day -- on the day before the Pope's arrival, amid an ongoing wave of political arrests in Cuba?

President Obama (or Ben Rhodes) was surely aware that the media frenzy and sensationalism would serve as a welcome distraction for the Castro regime from its repressive crackdown.

Moreover, in The White House's official readout of Friday's call between President Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro, why isn't there any mention of these human rights abuses and political arrests?

The irresponsible disconnect is mind-boggling.

WSJ: Cuban Dissidents Beg to See the Pope

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Dissidents Beg to See the Pope

The struggle for freedom and dignity in Cuba is essentially a Catholic movement.

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear.’

Those words were spoken in 2002 by Oswaldo José Payá—a Cuban Roman Catholic and the founder of the island’s Christian Liberation Movement. He was addressing the European Parliament, which had given him the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. He emphasized his dream of Cuban reconciliation: “We are going to seek the truth together. This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.”

Payá was brave, eloquent and dedicated to nonviolent change. That made him dangerous to the regime. In 2012 he was killed when the car he was riding in, according to its driver, was run off the road by another vehicle. The Castro regime did not allow a transparent investigation of the crash.

The Cuban dissident movement that Payá energized is essentially a Catholic movement. Its struggle for human dignity is built on a faith handed down by the earliest Christians, who were brutalized by pagan Rome. Its heroes are also harassed, beaten, imprisoned, exiled and even murdered for peacefully expressing their love of God and neighbor.

This is why Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba that began on Saturday evening and runs until midday Tuesday is generating controversy. Any refusal to acknowledge the men and women of the resistance risks turning the trip into a papal punch in the gut to the island’s devout Catholics. However, the pope would not be in Cuba if Raúl Castro hadn’t thought that his tour would be good for the regime’s image. To express solidarity with dissidents the pope would have to offend his hosts.

The signals ahead of the visit were not encouraging for nonconformists. The Vatican spent months preparing the public for a show choreographed by Castro, his military dictatorship and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Last week Rome said that a meeting with dictator emeritus, Fidel Castro, was “probable.” Catholic activists, who were begging for an audience of their own, were still waiting for an answer.

Another troubling development this summer was a statement by Cardinal Ortega that the dictatorship no longer holds political prisoners. That’s a howler. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported in June that it has documented 71 political prisoners. There are likely many more. The penal code, modeled on the Soviet penal code, makes the mere appearance of “dangerousness” a crime. Anyone not judged sufficiently revolutionary can be, and often is, locked up.

Earlier this month the regime announced that in honor of the pope’s visit it would release some 3,500 inmates from its jails. But the dictatorship said that those who have committed “crimes against state security” or the crime of killing a cow—to get food—are not part of the release. Translation: Desperate acts to feed your family or political transgressions are unforgivable.

Catholic dissidents have not lost hope that the pontiff will see them. Earlier this month five democracy activists holed up in the Cathedral of San Rosendo in the province of Pinar del Rio and issued a statement asking for human rights and support from Francis. Church officials had them arrested.

In the year the Castros took over (1959) they executed more than 1,000 men, many of faith, by firing squad. Valiant cries of “long live Christ the King” are said to have reverberated in those prison courtyards just before the triggers were pulled. Soon priests and nuns were exiled and God was outlawed to make room for Marxism.

The dictatorship has refined its methods, turning in the sledgehammer for a scalpel to control the population. Intermittent crackdowns on individuals and small groups to terrorize the rest are highly effective. Yet managing the international image remains a challenge.

At times it seems as if the church is being used to help solve this problem. Rome wants to send more priests to the island to administer the sacraments and evangelize. The Castros may be willing to go along but at a price: The moral authority of the church must not be used to condemn the police state.

It’s a messy trade that can’t end well for the Vatican. On Wednesday Afro-Cuban activist José Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” who spent 17 years in a Castro dungeon, initiated a group hunger strike called “Holy Father, we too are Cuba” at his home in the city of Placetas. By Sunday afternoon the pope met with Fidel while dozens of dissidents—including some of the Catholic group Ladies in White—who tried to be recognized by the pope had been detained.

When this column went to press there was no sign of the pope reaching out to marginalized souls like Antunez. Things could still change, but if not Pope Francis’ departure Tuesday will leave a lot of disappointed Catholics behind.

Three Popes Make Same Mistake in Cuba

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Sunday's Mass by Pope Francis in Havana was -- by far -- less attended than that of his predecessors, Popes John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

Perhaps that's because the Cuban people have seen the same script play out twice before, whereby the Pope visits Cuba, coddles the Castros, leaves and all remains the same -- with a bunch of new dissidents arrested.

Ironically, the Obama Administration argues for engagement with the Castros -- yet three Popes have kowtowed to the Castros with no success.

Perhaps they should change tactics and instead cast their lot with the oppressed and downtrodden.

For "the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." Psalm 9:9.

Cuba Arrests Dissidents Before Pope's Havana Mass

From The Huffington Post:

Cuba Arrests Dissidents Before Pope's Havana Mass

"Unfortunately, this morning's actions by Cuba's state security apparatus are only a glimpse into the constant and ongoing repression by the Cuban regime."

Four dissidents opposed to Cuba’s communist regime were arrested when they tried approaching Pope Francis in Havana on Sunday, an activist group reported.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba identified the dissidents as Patriotic Union of Cuba members Zaqueo Baéz, Boris Reni, Aymara Nieto Muñoz and Maria Josefa Acon Sardiña, who is also a member of the Ladies in White, a peaceful protest group founded by female relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Photos showed some of them being dragged away by security personnel at Havana's Revolution Square, where they reportedly tried to approach the pope as his white popemobile carried him to the Mass he was giving.

They were yelling "freedom!" and anti-government slogans, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer. Opposition groups have widely criticized the pope's decision not to meet with them during his Cuba trip.

The Foundation condemned the nature of the activists' detainment.

"We are deeply disturbed by the arrests of these activists, specifically the violent manner in which the nonviolent activists in Havana were detained by Cuban officials," director of communications Jose Luis Martinez told The Huffington Post in an email. "This, just after the activists had received Pope Francis' blessing ... We urge His Holiness Pope Francis to intervene on behalf of these activists for their immediate and unconditional release."

Martinez noted that the activists were led by Baéz, whose cell phone was confiscated by police. Such interferences in activists' communications are all too common, he said.

"Unfortunately, this morning's actions by Cuba's state security apparatus are only a glimpse into the constant and ongoing repression by the Cuban regime to silence activists and dissident voices which have included the arrest and short term detentions of dozens of activists over the past several days in order to prevent them from attending papal ceremonies," he said. "Cuban officials have definitely not been acting in a manner that reflects the Pope's mission of peace and reconciliation in Cuba."

Must-Watch: Cuban Dissidents Approach Pope, Brutally Arrested by Secret Police

This morning, three Cuban dissidents (two men and a woman) managed to approach Pope Francis' vehicle and were violently arrested afterwards by Castro's secret police.

Univision captured live footage of the entire incident -- click here to watch.

The video shows the dissidents, led by Zaqueo Baez of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), approach the Pope's vehicle and ask for his support for the freedom of the Cuba people.

The Pope gave them a blessing and they were thereafter separated from the vehicle.

Note how Castro's secret police officials -- dressed in plain clothes -- came out from the crowds and chased them down, in order to violently drag them away.

They also carefully picked up every pamphlet calling for the freedom of the Cuban people that the dissidents dispersed in the air.

Cuban Dissidents Arrested On Way to Apostolic Nunciature in Havana

Various Cuban dissidents were invited yesterday afternoon -- at the last minute -- to greet Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana.

However, they were arrested by Castro's secret police as they headed to the Nunciature.

Among those arrested were Berta Soler, head of The Ladies in White, along with her husband, Angel Moya, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Also arrested on her way to the Nunciature was renowned democracy leader, Marta Beatriz Roque.

Earlier in the day, over 20 members of The Ladies in White and at least 30 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were rounded up and arrested, in order to prevent them from attending Sunday's Papal Mass.

Other activists arrested include former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Librado Linares, Agustin Lopez and Carlos Olivera, who was arrested along with his wife Yenisleydis Millo, a member of The Ladies in White.

Meanwhile, the headquarters of The Ladies in White in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana remains besieged by Castro's repressive brigades.

Caught on Film: Cuban Woman Arrested for Demonstrating in Front of New U.S. Embassy

The following video shows Castro's police force violently arresting a Cuban woman who was peacefully holding a sign in front of the new U.S. Embassy in Havana asking for help for her hungry children.

Click below (or here) to watch: