Cuban authorities mix tolerance, repression
Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, given a rare chance by the government to address his flock on state-run radio, prayed that the Virgin of Charity would help Cuba ``open its mind and heart to Christ, the lone savior.
But the high point of the celebrations was the surprisingly large turnout, estimated at 5,000 to 10,000, for a procession around central Havana banned by the Communist government since 1961.
The faithful shouldered the gold-caped statue of the Virgin of Charity for 12 blocks around the Santisima Caridad del Cobre church and chanted ``Long live the Virgin and ``Long live Pope John Paul II.
``The Pope brought us the miracle of the streets, of being able to show
our faith and ourselves on our streets for the first time in years,''
Havana carpenter Mario Maldonado, 46, said in a telephone interview after
the ceremonies. Largest procession
Another 1,000 believers turned out Monday night for a procession of the Virgin of Regla, venerated by Catholics and Santeria followers alike in the Havana suburb of Regla.
The two ceremonies stood out in a nation that officially declared itself communist and atheist in 1962 and began reopening the doors to religion only in the last few years.
John Paul's visit opened the doors further, winning the release of 100 political prisoners and a relaxation of controls on dissent that human rights activists had said they hoped would mark a change in policy.
Those hopes were put in doubt Monday, however, when police arrested six
dissidents who were present when a brief street protest erupted Aug. 28
after a Havana court convicted another dissident. `Far-reaching crackdown'
He identified the arrested dissidents as Miriam Garcia and Roberto de Miranda of the Independent Teachers' Association; Luis Lopez Prendes of the Independent Press Bureau; Vicky Ruiz of the Committee of Peaceful Opponents; Ofelia Nardo of the Democratic Workers Federation; and Nancy de Varona of the June 13 Movement. All are small groups critical of the regime.
There were unconfirmed reports that police also arrested a top dissident, Leonel Morejon Almagro, as well as Maria de los Angeles Amaro, Nancy Sotolongo and Miriam Castillo.
Government officials declined to comment on the arrests, but Sanchez
said the six seemed unlikely to be released soon because police had told
relatives they could visit them in jail next Monday. No word about charges
No word about charges
Sanchez said he is worried that the arrests may mark a change in the more relaxed attitude toward dissent displayed by police over the past year.
``I hope it does not change the climate of lessened tensions, but perhaps this could be the end of this kind of precarious truce, and a return to a situation of intolerance, he told The Herald in a telephone interview.
Even during the period of relative relaxation, dissidents and the church have remained under tight watch and subject to government reprisals.
The government bans the church from running schools, controls its access
to the media, limits its capacity to print pamphlets and restricts its
personnel through visa controls on foreign missionaries. Arrests in 1997
Arrests in 1997
Sanchez estimated that Cuba is now holding 380 political prisoners, down from about 1,000 two years ago. The government says they are not political prisoners but persons accused of ``counterrevolutionary crimes.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald