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More than 1,100 Cubans reported detained during papal visit

By Juan O. Tamayo, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — Cuban police carried out 1,158 political detentions in March — mostly to keep dissidents away from Pope Benedict XVI — the most since the mass roundups during the Bay of Pigs invasion five decades ago, a human rights group reported Tuesday.

The report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana came a day after police once again detained Andres Carrion Alvarez, who shouted “Down with Communism” before the pope’s mass in Santiago de Cuba last month.

The tally added fuel to complaints that the pope and the Cuban Catholic Church turned a blind eye to the communist government’s human rights abuses in their efforts to gain more space for church activities on the island.

The dissident Ladies in White have asked for a meeting with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino “because the repression has grown worse here in Cuba, and what we’re seeing is a total silence on the part of the church,” group leader Bertha Soler said Tuesday.

The 40-page report, which included names and dates for each detention, was the hardest evidence yet that the government cracked down on dissent roughly at the same time Benedict was calling for freedom during his March 26-29 visit.

More than half the “arbitrary detentions for political motives” and house arrests reported during March took place in the days just before and during the papal visit, the report noted, in a clear campaign to block their participation in papal events. They usually lasted a few hours or days.

The total of 1,158 such detentions for the month, it added, was “the highest single monthly tally in the last five decades, only comparable to the huge sweeps carried out across the country” during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

At that time of the attack by CIA-backed exiles, Cuban security forces rounded up tens of thousands of men and women suspected of sympathizing with the invaders and held them for days in jammed sports fields, theaters and other sites.

Soler said about 60 Ladies in White were arrested during the papal visit and only three managed to slip into the open-air papal Mass in Havana March 28. They were relatively new members of the group who apparently were unknown to security officials.

“It is very important that the church hierarchy, Jaime (Ortega), raise their voices so that the government will stop this repression,” Soler told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.

Emails sent to the Vatican media office and Ortega’s office at the archdiocese of Havana, seeking comment, were not immediately answered.

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