“Pope Benedict XVI on Monday visited one of the world’s last remaining communist states, preaching new cooperation between church and the Cuban state and calling on the island nation to build a more open society.
“Even as the pontiff was greeted warmly by cheers and waving flags, Cuban dissidents said they had been blocked from attending ceremonies in a crackdown which had begun this weekend and has left at least 50 people detained, according to several dissidents.
“A Cuban government spokesman said the government doesn’t detain political prisoners. Cuban authorities view dissidents as having broken the law for opposing the government. Neither the Vatican nor Pope Benedict on Monday commented on the detentions.
“Meanwhile, members of Cuba’s most prominent dissident group, the Ladies in White, said that 22 of their members had been detained. Eight members of the group who planned to attend the pope’s Mass despite having been ordered not to by Cuban police said that service had been cut to all their cell phones.
“The arrests were similar to others just over a week ago, the group said, On March 17 and 18, the government rounded up dozens of members of the Ladies in White, detaining most for about a day and warning most of them not to attend the Monday Mass, before releasing them, said Bertha Soler, the group’s leader. The latest arrests seemed to focus on Cuba’s eastern provinces, such as Santiago and Holguin, near where the pope would appear, dissidents said.
“Jorge Cervantes, a human rights activist and dissident, had planned to go to Santiago for the Monday mass, said his wife, but had been arrested Saturday in the town of Contramaestre, outside of Santiago. ‘Ten police arrived and he was hit many times,’ she said in a telephone interview.’
“On Monday, Nik Steinberg of nonprofit Human Rights Watch, said the government had ‘shut off virtually every outlet for dissent during the pope’s visit,’ detaining dissidents and cutting off their phones.” Nicholas Casey, The Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2012, p. A7