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Little to commemorate, celebrate after pope’s visit

Posted on Thursday, 04.05.12
The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Little to commemorate, celebrate after pope's visit

OUR OPINION: Repression continues after Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba
By The Miami Herald Editorial
HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

As Christians commemorate Good Friday leading up to Easter and Jews
prepare to celebrate Passover, the story of the Exodus, when the ancient
Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, there's a communist island
in the Caribbean where its people remain enslaved and few days can be
called "good."

Barely a week after Pope Benedict XVI left Cuba, the repression
continues. His short visit did nothing to give Cubans hope for a better
future. The Vatican will point to the Cuban government allowing its
people to not work this Good Friday as a sign that change is coming, if
slowly. Yet the pope's visit was one missed opportunity after another to
speak up for Cubans' basic human rights.

The pope had no time in his busy schedule to meet with the Ladies in
White, the mothers, daughters and relatives of those imprisoned for
peacefully protesting the Cuban dictatorship. Yet these women have been
loyal Catholics, going to mass every Sunday for years. They have been
spat on, punched out and knocked down by government-approved mobs. But
the pope had no time for them.

In Santiago, there was another powerful missed opportunity when Andrés
Carrión Alvárez ran through the crowd during the outdoor church service
yelling, "Down with communism!" He was beaten and carted away — but not
before getting pummeled on the head with a cot used as a weapon by a
Cuban Red Cross worker. From the pope and the Cuban church leadership
there was silence. Mr. Carrión, meanwhile, hasn't been seen since.

In Havana, Alan Gross, an American contractor working for the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID), will "celebrate" Passover
in prison. He was arrested in December 2009. His crime? Bringing
satellite equipment to Cuba's tiny Jewish community. For this, he is
serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Again, the pope said nothing, at least publicly, to ask for Mr. Gross'
release or to defend the fundamental right of all Cubans to be able to
reach out and communicate with the world.

Another pope, John Paul II, asked Cuba to open up to the world and for
the world to open up to Cuba some 14 years ago. Since then, Cubans have
experienced some small successes — Christmas is now celebrated openly,
for instance, in a nation that Fidel Castro had proclaimed to be
atheists and remained officially so for decades. But the crackdowns on
those who speak out against the regime's abuses continue to this day.

In preparation for Pope Benedict's visit, the Cuban regime detained
hundreds of dissidents and shut them out of participating in any of the
religious observances. They redirected dissidents' phone lines to state
security and claimed a technical glitch cut off Internet access
islandwide. Worse still, Cuban Catholic leaders, led by Cardinal Jaime
Ortega, turned over several Cubans — who had gone into a Havana church
to seek the pope's attention before his visit — to state security.
Disgraceful.

Since the pope's departure, the beatings and detentions by Cuban
authorities continue. Cuban authorities have locked up at least two
dozen dissidents, including José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who was among the
75 detained during Cuba's Black Spring crackdown of dissidents in 2003,
and his wife, Belkis Cantillo. Their small children are now in the care
of an aging relative. So much for progress.

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