In a weekend during which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared from Havana that Congressional Democrats had a “great enthusiasm” for lifting what is left of the American embargo in Cuba, the Cuban government reportedly arrested more than 200 dissidents for attempting to attend Catholic mass.
14yMedio, an independent Cuban online outlet run by acclaimed blogger Yoani Sánchez, reports the total was collected from arrests across a number of churches. Many of those arrested were women that belong to the dissident group Ladies in White, a collective of mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of political prisoners. Also among them were reportedly at least 90 members of the pro-democracy Patriotic Cuban Union, which has independently compiled a partial list of those known to have been detained. Capitol Hill Cubans reports that around 83 of those arrested were Ladies in White, and 90 belonging to the Patriotic Cuban Union.
The Ladies in White attend mass every Sunday, followed by a march through the streets of several town in which they congregate in silence, holding up the photos of their imprisoned loved ones. The subsequent silent political action has turned Sunday Mass, already a thorn in the side of the Cuban government due to Marxists’ hatred of Christianity, into a weekly opportunity to detain dissidents.
In addition to the Ladies in White, both 14yMedio and the Patriotic Cuban Union list Guillermo Fariñas among those arrested. Fariñas is a Sakharov Prize winner famous for having conducted at least 24 hunger strikes against the Castro regime and continuing to advocate against the communist regime. In June 2014, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported that Fariñas was arrested “almost every Monday” for attending peaceful anti-communist assemblies.
Most shocking during this wave of arrests was not the speed and volume of the police action, but an incident Capitol Hill Cubans reports with accompanying photo: a Lady in White, Digna Rodríguez Ibañez, attacked with tar during the church siege.
The Cuban government broke records in 2014 for the number of dissident arrests during a trend of growing violence inflicted on peaceful political opponents of the communist regime. It appears to be tightening its grip on dissidents in the wake of President Obama’s numerous concessions to the Castro regime in December. That month, artist Tania Bruguera was arrested for attempting to place a microphone in Havana’s Revolution Plaza and allow individuals to use it freely for one minute.
In response to Obama’s call to expand American contributions to the Castro regime in December, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has made clear that he expects Cuba to give the United States “nothing in return” for even more concessions, from American businesses helping fund the Cuban government to the return of the Guantánamo Bay naval base to Cuba. Cuban negotiators at meetings with American diplomat have made clear that “changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable” regarding political freedoms.