HAVANA — Cuba released 70 members of the dissident Ladies in White group detained during the weekend but warned them not to attend activities related to next week’s visit of Pope Benedict, the group’s leader told Reuters on Monday.
The women, known in Spanish as the “Damas de Blanco,” were freed without charges after being arrested in three separate incidents on Saturday and Sunday when they attempted to march in Havana.
Leader Berta Soler, who was detained twice during the weekend, said in a phone interview she was released on Sunday night and given the warning about the pope, who will come to Cuba March 26-28 and give two public masses.
“They said we couldn’t participate in the masses when the pope comes, neither in Santiago nor in Havana,” Soler said.
“They are mistaken because who is going to prohibit us from being close to Christ, being close to God, to the pope who is represents Christ on earth?” she said.
The Pope should extend these heroines a very specific, very public, invitation to attend.
Soler has said her group would like to meet briefly with the pope to discuss human rights in Cuba but Roman Catholic Church authorities said last week a visit with dissidents was not on the schedule.
The EU’s hierarchy has long had a distinctly feeble (and sometimes worse than that) approach towards the Cuban dictatorship. Agreeing to meet Cuba’s dissidents (and welcoming them to those masses), will give Benedict XVI, a frequent critic of what he sees as the lack of moral foundations underpinning the EU, an ideal opportunity to show how his approach differs from that of the oligarchs of Brussels.
More important, it would be a massive signal of support to the people of Cuba, a nation that has lived under tyranny for far, far too long.