Cuba's Roman Catholic bishops on Saturday criticized the downing of two unarmed American civilian planes by Cuban MiGs on Feb. 24 and deplored the government's ban on a national conference that dissidents had planned to hold in Havana the same day.
A statement issued by the Cuban Bishops' Conference also expressed disapproval of the tightening of the U.S. embargo on Cuba through the Helms-Burton law signed by President Clinton last week.
Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina said the government is analyzing the bishops' statement carefully to determine whether "it has any connection with the aggressive policy that North American imperialism is currently applying against Cuba."
Robaina also told the government news agency Prensa Latina that officials are studying the statement "in order to learn the motives that prompted the bishops to sign it, what its objectives are and who inspired it."
The bishops' statement said recent events have strengthened "the most intransigent positions" in Cuba and the United States, and have made the possibility of reconciliation among Cubans more remote.
Referring to flights by the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue, the statement said the Cuban government's response -- downing two planes, causing the death of the four pilots -- was "excessive and violent, and its effects were devastating, despite the fact that the repeated aerial incursions may have been imprudent and may have exacerbated tensions."
The bishops deplored the government's ban on the meeting planned for Feb. 24 in Havana by Concilio Cubano, a coalition of dissident groups, and the arrest of many of its activists.
"Our position deploring what happened with the frustrated meeting of Concilio Cubano does not arise from any political consideration, but rather from our concern as pastors of the Church who have never ceased to propose harmony and dialogue," the statement said.
The bishops repeated their call for "moderation and prudence at a time of so much tension" and warned that an atmosphere of confrontation favors factions that adopt positions appropriate to the days of the Cold War.
In that context, the bishops criticized the Helms-Burton law and any
other measure that attempts to tighten the U.S. trade embargo -- both because
of the broad effect on the island's population and because "they reduce the
finding peaceful means to achieve the reconciliation of all Cubans."
"In this way, the forces of peace will be defeated," the statement said.
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