Cardinal gets Cuba to lift ban on 'Ladies in White' protest
Published on Monday, May 3, 2010
HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega said on
Sunday he managed to convince the Cuban government to lift its nearly
month-long ban on street protests by "Ladies in White" — the wives and
mothers of political prisoners.
Ortega said the Church was "always dealing with" political prisoner
issues with the Cuban government; "In ecclesiastical terms, I would say,
for ever and ever."
The Archbishop of Havana made his announcement while delivering a mass
at the Church of Santa Rita, after which he presided over a march by 12
members of the Ladies in White down the capital's Fifth Avenue.
For three previous Sundays, similar marches were attempted but stopped
outside the church by police, who said the group lacked a protest permit.
Opposition groups, including the Ladies in White, have recently
stepped-up their challenge to government authority by regularly taking
to the streets.
The protests have aroused strong criticism of the Cuban regime from
Europe, the United States and international rights organizations, but
Havana has so far dismissed it all as a political campaign.
The Cuban government refuses to admit it holds political prisoners and
accuses the Ladies in White of being "mercenaries" and agents of
US-sponsored "subversion" on the island.
Havana has come under fire internationally and from activists inside
Cuba since the February 23 death of dissident Orlando Zapata after an
85-day prison hunger strike to demand the release of 26 fellow ailing
A second dissident, independent journalist Guillermo Farinas, 48, took
up the cause with his own hunger strike a day after Zapata's death and
has since rejected the advice of his mother and others to drop his
protest lest he die.
Cardinal Ortega also told reporters that the Catholic Church on Sunday
had once again asked Farinas to be more "flexible" in his stance and end
his 68-day hunger strike.
"It's more or less up to him," Ortega said, adding that the frail
dissident has already been visited three times by a bishop and even more
often by local priests, "at his mother's behest to ask him to stop his
hunger strike. But he refuses."