.- The leader of Cuba's Women in White protest group says recent harassment by state police will not deter them from their peaceful defense of human rights and from attending the Masses Pope Benedict will celebrate during his visit to the country March 26-28.
“The Cuban government has intensified the repression and violence against human rights activists. In the face of repression, we become more united and stronger. We shall continue united and attempt to participate in the Masses in Santiago and Havana,” group leader Berta Soler told CNA.
On March 17, government agents arrested group members as they commemorated the ninth anniversary of what's known as the Black Spring of 2003, when 75 political dissidents were arrested.
Although several other members were also detained on Sunday on their way to Mass at the Church of St. Rita in Havana, most who were arrested over the weekend were released that evening.
Soler said the government is attempting to dissuade them from attending the papal Masses during Pope Benedict's upcoming trip to Cuba.
“We will not be frightened by repression,” Soler said. “We have a right to participate in the Mass the Holy Father will celebrate because he is God’s representative on Earth.
She said the Raul Castro government does not want the Women in White to continue their peaceful struggle for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba and claims that local authorities have no qualms about threatening to “put them in jail for fifteen years.”
“In Cuba there is no real freedom of movement, freedom of expression or freedom of association,” she added.
Soler said the Communist regime regularly deports opposition leaders from one city to another within Cuba. “The women who were not from Havana were detained and deported to Matanzas, Holguin and Santiago,” she said of those who were not released on Sunday.
Soler said her husband, Angel Moya – who was one of the original dissidents arrested in 2003 and later released – is among those who have been detained since March 18.
She underscored that the group will “continue our peaceful struggle for the release of all political prisoners, because we are also defenders of human rights.”