By BosNewsLife Americas Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– Several Christian dissidents in Cuba were under house arrest or detained elsewhere Sunday, ahead of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the Communist-run island, Christian rights activists told BosNewsLife.
Among those being prevented from leaving her home in Holguin City was Caridad Caballero Batista,, a leading member of the Ladies in White group, who has been prevented from attending church for 14 weeks, according to Christians familiar with her situation.
She and others have been told they will not be allowed to travel to the southeastern town of El Cobre, which is due to be visited by the pontiff on his three-day official tour to Cuba, beginning Monday, March 26, said Britain-based rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The Ladies in White was started by the wives, daughters and mothers of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s “Black Spring” to protest their imprisonment and demand more human rights.
The last known dissidents of that group were freed last spring, but all except 12 went directly from prison to exile in Spain, with their female relatives.
In a statement, the Ladies in White said the secret police told them that they will shut down the weekly marches staged by the white-clothing-wearing women after Sunday masses in Havana’s Santa Rita church.
Police reportedly also detained over 70 members of the group last week and members, including a 70-year-old woman, were allegedly kicked or otherwise mistreated by security forces.
There situation was not immediately clear Sunday, March 25.
Additionally, four women from the advocacy group Rosa Parks Foundation were reportedly arrested on their way to Mass last week and were still being held by authorities.
Officials did not say when they would be released.
Other Christians have also been targeted, said rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) which investigates the situation of believers on the island.
“A number of individuals have had their right to manifest their beliefs impeded after being barred from religious activities on account of their political affiliations. Some religious groups have not been free to operate without interference from the government,” said CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston.
“The reports that CSW has received indicate that the government crackdown has affected Christians across all denominations,” he told BosNewsLife.
Dissidents claim the government does not want alleged human rights abuses to be discussed during the pope’s visit. Cuba’s government has denied abuses and the existence of dissidents on the island.
It also said that those being freed after Catholic church mediation were in fact US mercenaries who were responsible for several crimes including, for instance, “acts against the state” and belonging to “illegal organizations.”
The pontiff did not directly address the situation of detained Christians, but expressed doubts to reporters about the ideology steering Cuba’s government.
“It is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality,” Benedict XVI said. “New models must be found, though with patience,” he said.
In a reaction, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Friday, March 23, that his country respects all opinions. “We consider the exchange of ideas useful,” he added about the pontiff’s remarks.