By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, March 19 — Over 70 “Ladies in White” and supporters were arrested over the weekend in Cuba and later released, reported dpa news on Monday.
Some of the women had been the object of a “repudiation rally” this past Saturday, when they commemorated the ninth anniversary of the arrests of 75 dissidents in 2003 – a crackdown known as “Black Spring.”
Around 20 of the women were arrested on Sunday when they began their now traditional Sunday march through the Havana neighborhood of Miramar and tried to cross into the Vedado neighborhood, noted dpa.
Others were detained before they could reach the march’s starting point.
The detentions took place as the environment heats up before the March 26-28 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba, putting the island in the eyeshot of the international media in full force.
A week ago an occupying of a Havana church by a dozen members of a little known illegal political party making political and economic rights demands ended after 48 hours when the police answered the Catholic Church’s request to evict the protesters, who left peacefully.
The Ladies in White are demanding an audience with Pope Benedict XVI to lodge their complaints for the release of more prisoners and other civil liberties.
Their original demand for the release of their husbands and sons from the 2003 round-up was met over a year ago after negotiations involving the Catholic Church and both the Spanish and Cuban governments.
So far the Vatican has said a meeting with dissidents is not on the Pope’s busy agenda in Cuba.
US Jumps in the Fray
The United States government harshly criticized the detention of the Ladies in White in the lead up to the Pope’s visit and said it hoped Mr. Ratzinger would urge Havana “to allow Cubans to peacefully exercise their rights,” reported dpa.
US National Security Council spokesperson, Tommy Vietor noted: “The detention of members of the Ladies in White this weekend in Havana, just before the visit of Pope Benedict, underlines the disdain of the Cuban authorities for the universal rights of the Cuban people.”
The US maintains a half century economic embargo on Cuba trying to promote regime change. It also enforces a travel ban on ordinary US citizens who it does not allow to visit Cuba without special US Treasury Dept. permission.