As we learned yesterday, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, leader of the Catholic Church in Cuba, employed the services of the violent and cruel forces of Castro State Security to expel thirteen protestors occupying a church in Havana. Although the dubious and friendly relationship between Ortega and the Castro dictatorship has been well documented and known for quite some time, the decision by the Archbishop of Havana to use agents of repression surprised even the most vocal of his critics.
Church-backed raid on protest in Cuba criticized
Some say Cuba’s cardinal too cozy with government
HAVANA — A decision by Cuba’s Roman Catholic cardinal to call police in to remove dissidents occupying a church has sparked an uncomfortable debate about the institution’s role on this Communist-run island at the worst possible moment: just 10 days ahead of a high-profile visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
Cuban opposition leaders who had kept their distance from the 13 little-known protesters holed up in the Church of Charity since Tuesday nonetheless denounced the move by Cardinal Jaime Ortega to oust them, saying Friday it was a black mark for a church that ought to protect human and political rights.
The criticism was joined by human rights officials and some exiles, though others acknowledged the dissidents put church leaders in a tough spot.
Religious experts noted the eviction of the occupiers was not unprecedented, with police called in just last month to remove protesters from a camp outside St. Paul’s cathedral in London, and Occupy Wall Street protesters removed from a church in New York last year.
The 13 Cuban dissidents were removed from the church in Central Havana at 9:30 p.m. Thursday by about 60 unarmed officers, who took them to a nearby police station, fingerprinted them and issued a formal warning before sending them home. The church said in a statement that it had secured a promise from the government not to prosecute the dissidents for their action.
In spite of the assurances made in a press release from the Havana Archdiocese that the protestors were peacefully escorted out of the church, their removal was carried out in the typical repressive fashion Castro State Security agents are all too well known for:
The church said the dissidents were evicted peacefully in an operation that took less than 10 minutes, an account verified by local residents but vehemently disputed by at least one occupier.
“The church is lying,” Fred Calderon said in a telephone interview. “It wasn’t peaceful. They removed us with violence and shoving.”
According to Cardinal Ortega, he also made assurances that the protestors would not suffer any threats from the Castro government after they left the church, but now we learn that was another untruth communicated to the protestors by the prelate. After being violently removed from the church, fingerprinted, and issued official warnings, the thirteen protestors are now surrounded and under siege by agents of the G2, the Castro dictatorship’s infamous State Security force, as one of the protestors reports from Havana on Hablalo Sin Miedo (my translation):
My name is Roniel Valentin Aguilon. I am director of the Republican Party of Cuba for the municipality of Old Havana. We spent three days in the Lady of Charity Church, at this moment we continue to be surrounded by State Security being repressed, threatened, blackmailed, all of us are here under siege. Long live human rights! Down with Castro! Liberty! Liberty! The 13 of us are all here at the party’s headquarters and we will remain here. We will not be made to understand with repression and we will continue moving forward.