News and Facts about Cuba

In dissidents’ arrest following Pope’s Cuba visit, a Cardinal neglects his flock

In dissidents' arrest following Pope's Cuba visit, a Cardinal neglects

his flock

May 4, 2012

Achy Obejas

Cuban authorities dissidents Vladimir Calderón and Julio

Beltrán on April 28. Their crime? The two men were accused of passing

out anti-government flyers and organizing an anti-government march on

May 1. Both men were publicly beaten as they were arrested.

(AP/Franklin Reyes)

Pope Benedict XVI walks with Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega, right, as he

waves upon his arrival in Havana in late March.

If anyone should be held responsible should something happen to Calderón

and Beltrán while in custody, I point a finger squarely at Havana

Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The crux of this story lies in Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the

island. groups saw an opportunity to have this self-proclaimed

man of peace intercede with the government for them, or at the very

least acknowledge them. Many Cuban dissident groups are Catholic,

including the country's best known opposition group, The Ladies in White.

Calderon and Beltrán's group, the Republican Party of Cuba, is small and

mostly unknown. They meet and pray together on the 13th of every month

at the Church of the Virgin of Charity in central Havana, a crumbling

neighborhood of tremendous poverty and crime just outside the city's


When they learned of the Pope's impending visit, they prepared a list of

demands they hoped the pontiff would discuss with .

The demands included for political prisoners, a stop to the

repression of dissidents, freedom to , freedom of association,

economic freedom, access to private property, internet access, wage

increases, more for children and a dialogue between the government

and its opposition. Pretty standard stuff, at least for those of us

living under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Their idea was to deliver the list to the Pope via the Church of the

Virgin of Charity. But when presented with the document, the parish

priest refused to accept it, thus setting off a complicated back and

forth between the dissidents and the archbishop's office. The

dissidents, fearing they'd be victims of a government rapid-response mob

outside the church, refused to leave until a church official came to

talk to them.

And what did Cardinal Ortega do? He requested that members of the

national force enter the church and forcibly remove the group of

13 men, women and children, sanctuary be damned.

The Pope came and went from Cuba, salsa dancing with the excommunicated

Fidel (in 1962), saying not a word about, nor once acknowledging, never

mind meeting with, any of the dissidents.

And then the Cardinal went to Harvard.

Ortega said the entire incident, which he described as the "occupation"

of the Church of the Virgin of Charity, had been a plot planned by Miami

exiles against the government.

And the dissidents? "They were a group that – this pains me a lot – all

of them were former delinquents," said the Cardinal. "There was a former

Cuban who had been returned to Cuba, he had been in for

six years and was one of the excludable people who were sent to Cuba […]

among them were people without any cultural level, some with

psychological disturbances."

The Miami Herald broke down the background of group's members. They are

mostly working class people (one survives by fixing lighters), but

several have a college education and professional careers, including


The extraordinary thing, to me, in the Cardinal's declaration, though,

is his use of the word "delinquent": a government favorite to discredit

its critics.

And, of course, the Cardinal's cruel dismissal of the very people that

Jesus would have called us to protect: the voiceless and oppressed, the

poor and powerless.

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