The leader of a human rights group is concerned that the Cuban government will repeat its 2012 crackdown on opposition activists when Pope Francis visits the nation next month.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s visit three years ago, Cuban officials made arrests and took other actions to keep the dissidents from communicating with each other, said Berta Soler, leader of Women in White, a group of wives and other relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents.
“We’re really worried,” Soler told CNA last week. “When Pope Benedict XVI came to Cuba they shut down telephone lines in an area of some 15 to 25 miles. They did the same to the cell phones of human rights activists and their close relatives.”
She said the government put them under surveillance three days before Pope Benedict’s arrival.
“Cuban officials began arresting all the human rights activists so we couldn’t participate in the Masses the Pope celebrated in Santiago de Cuba and Havana.”
Pope Francis will visit Cuba Sept. 19-22.
“We’re waiting (to see what will happen), we’re thinking the same thing is going to happen when the Holy Father Pope Francis comes,” Soler said.
Nevertheless, she stated that Women in White as well as other human rights activists will try to go to the Masses because “we want to be close to the Holy Father.” She said they know that they’re going to be arrested.
Soler met with Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square in May 2013 and sent a letter to the pontiff through the nunciature and through friends. She asked the Pope: “When you come to Cuba could you listen to us even for a few minutes?”
The dissident leader reported arrests of the Women in White and other opposition activists on recent Sundays.
“We’ve been going out now (to march) for 18 Sundays and we can take it for granted that the Castro regime is going to come after the Women in White and the human rights activists on Sunday, Aug. 23rd… because we’re deep into our #TodosMarchamos (We’re all marching) campaign to free the political prisoners.”
She said that the Castro government is assembling “paramilitary mobs organized and financed by (the regime) to physically and verbally attack us.” National police and state security agents are also involved.
According to Soler, at present “there are about 80 political prisoners and 42 who are only technically released or on parole.” The latter 42 could be arrested again and sent back to prison without trial at any moment.
On Sunday Aug. 16 more than 60 human rights activists along with some Women in White were restrained and arrested as they were marching after Mass at Saint Rita’s Church in Havana.
As expected, over 50 human rights activists and members of the Women in White were arrested in Havana on Sunday, Aug. 23 at the end of their protest march. Soler told the newspaper Martí News that excessive force was used in some arrests. Those detained were released five hours later in different parts of the city.
Some were released near nightfall in uninhabited areas where they were at risk of violence or assault, Soler charged.