Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Can the Pope bring hope to Cubans?

    Can the Pope bring hope to Cubans?
    By Editorial Board, Tuesday, March 20, 1:26 AM

    HOW IS CUBA preparing for the visit next week of Pope Benedict XVI? By
    rounding up dissidents, of course.

    Four score or so were detained over the weekend, including the leaders
    and most of the members of the Ladies in White, the group that regularly
    marches in support of political prisoners. Many were released Monday,
    but they can expect regular harassment in the coming days. The regime's
    practice is to carry out short-term arrests rather than formal
    imprisonments: According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
    National Reconciliation, there were more than 600 such detentions in
    February alone.

    If Pope Benedict or the Cuban Catholic hierarchy under Cardinal Jaime
    Ortega is troubled by this, they don't show much sign of it. So far, the
    pontiff has not responded to appeals by the Ladies in White and other
    dissident groups seeking a few minutes of his time during the three days
    he will spend in Cuba. He has, however, scheduled two meetings with Raul
    Castro and made it known that he will be "available" if Fidel Castro
    wishes to meet with him. Cardinal Ortega, for his part, asked police to
    expel 13 dissidents who were camped in a Havana church last week in an
    attempt to push the pope to talk to the Castros about human rights.

    The church's coldness toward peaceful pro-democracy activists isn't all
    that surprising. Since 2009, Cardinal Ortega has become a de facto
    partner of Raul Castro, meeting with him regularly and encouraging his
    limited reforms. The church helped broker the release of more than 100
    political prisoners and did not object when most were pressured into
    emigrating to Spain. The cardinal has lobbied in Washington for the
    relaxation of U.S. sanctions against Cuba; the pope himself gave a
    speech Friday calling for the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo. Pope
    Benedict's visit, the first by a pontiff since John Paul II toured the
    island in 1998, seems aimed at reinforcing what the church sees as a
    gradual process of peaceful reform led by the regime.

    The problem is that, as Raul Castro has made clear, liberal democracy
    plays no part in his strategy. Rather, he hopes that Cuba will follow
    the path of Vietnam or China, opening its economy enough to stabilize a
    one-party regime. That may work for Cardinal Ortega, but it won't
    satisfy Cuba's opposition. Some 750 activists sent a letter to Pope
    Benedict warning that his visit "would be like sending a message to the
    oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the
    church will allow it."

    How could Pope Benedict avoid sending that message? He could meet with
    the Ladies in White. He also could press the Castros to stop persecuting
    democratic activists and release those who remain in prison. That should
    include the American Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year prison term
    for delivering computers and satellite Internet connections to Cuba's
    Jewish community as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International
    Development.

    The Vatican is right to support change in Cuba but wrong to suppose that
    it will happen without greater pressure on the regime and cooperation
    with peaceful opponents.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-the-pope-can-help-cubans/2012/03/19/gIQADeM6NS_story.html