Friday, March 02, 2012

"Cuban activists urge the pope to reconsider his planned visit"

The activists, including Martha Beatriz Roque, sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI stating that his planned visit will lead to further repression.

By Juan O. Tamayo

Nearly 750 Cuban activists have signed a letter to Pope Benedict XVI warning that his planned visit to Cuba will “send a message to the oppressors that they can continue” to abuse Catholic opponents, dissidents reported Thursday.

“We would be very happy to receive you in our country, if the message of faith, love and hope that you could bring us also would serve to halt the repression against those who want to go to church,” the letter said.

It did not directly urge the pontiff to cancel his planned March 26-28 visit to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, but added, “May the Holy Trinity illuminate your mind so that you can make a correct decision.”

The letter was the latest word from those Cuban dissidents who are concerned that the pontiff’s visit will only legitimize Raúl Castro’s government and do little or nothing to improve human rights on the communist-ruled island.

A column by popular blogger Yoani Sánchez published Thursday in Spain’s El País newspaper noted that while Cubans enthusiastically welcomed Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998, today “a dose of national cynicism conspires against any enthusiasm.”

Havana dissident Martha Beatriz Roque said the idea for the letter popped up several weeks ago among activists, some Catholic and some not, from various groups who know each other and talk regularly about island issues.

“This does not come from any specific group, but rather from many people who are in contact with each other, and then each group sought the signatures in the provinces,” Roque told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Havana.

Roque emailed the letter to contacts abroad, along with the list of 749 names of people who signed it and their respective Cuban identity card numbers.

Among the signers were some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, such as Roque, Guillermo Fariñas, Sara Martha Fonseca, Vladimiro Roca, Jorge Luis “Antunez” García Pérez and his wife, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar.

Other dissidents have cautiously welcomed the papal visit as a ray of hope for the Cuban people and the Catholic church. Not signing the letter were Catholic activists Oswaldo Payá and Dagoberto Valdés, Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, and dissident Oscar Elias Biscet.

Roque said that she has been asking for an interview with the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy in Havana, Msgr. Bruno Musaro, for the past month to hand over the letter but has received no reply.

The letter argued that since abuses against Catholics only increased after the papal visit was announced, Benedict’s presence in Cuba “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”

It cited three cases in which government-organized mobs harassed or threatened dissidents who had gathered in churches, including one Feb. 19 in which the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba had to intervene to protect 14 Ladies in White surrounded at the Our Lady of Charity shrine in El Cobre.

“One should add that on top of all that, some of the faithful are visited by the political police between Friday and Saturday of each week, to be warned that they will not be allowed to attend mass — and indeed they are arrested on Sunday,” the letter added.

It also noted that the government alleges the dissidents go to church only “to provoke and engage in politicking” and added that “some non-official people” have repeated that line. “May God not hold that against them,” it added.

The letter did not identify them, but dissidents have complained in the past that some church officials have warned they cannot use churches as safe havens.

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