Cuban dissident Andres Carrion said he did not intend to offend the Catholic Church when he shouted “freedom” during the papal Mass in the country on March 26.
“It was not my intention to tarnish the Mass, and I have said so to various priests I have spoken with and they have understood me,” he said. “I am a Catholic and I didn’t have any intention to harm the Church or the image of the Pope.”
Minutes before Pope Benedict XVI began Mass at Antonio Maceo Revolutionary Square in Santiago during his recent visit, Carrion shouted, “Down with Communism! Down with the dictatorship! Freedom for the people of Cuba!”
He was quickly subdued by state-security agents and beaten by a supposed member of the Red Cross.
In an April 24 interview published by the newspaper El Pais, Carrion said he has sent a letter to the Archbishop of Santiago explaining the reasons for his protest “and to apologize to the Pope and to the entire Catholic community.”
“But they and everyone else should understand that we Cubans have no freedom of expression,” he said. “Because of this, we look for an opportunity to be heard, and I thought that that was an opportunity that could not be passed up.”
Carrrion said he does not belong to any political party and that he was motivated only by a sense of civic duty and principle.
“We Cuban needed to do something so the world could know about the violations and the huge problems that we face here with freedom of expression and human rights,” he explained. “I carried all of that around inside of me for a long time and that was the time to say it.”
Carrion said he spent 20 days in prison after the incident, and although he was not physically mistreated during his detainment, he was kept in a dark cell and only allowed to have the lights on ten minutes during the morning and ten minutes at night.
He was eventually released and forced to sign agreement with further restrictions.
“I have to check in at the police station each week, I cannot leave my town without asking permission, I cannot meet with members of the opposition or give interviews, I cannot participate in protests.”
But “I have not followed hardly any of that,” he added. “They are not going to silence me in this way.”
Carion said that before heading to Antonio Maceo Square on March 26, he said goodbye “to my mother, my sister, my wife…I told her that morning before going to Mass, 'I love you very much.'”
“I thought I would not return, I thought that was going to be the last day of my life.”