Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Little to commemorate, celebrate after pope’s visit

    Posted on Thursday, 04.05.12
    The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    Little to commemorate, celebrate after pope's visit

    OUR OPINION: Repression continues after Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba
    By The Miami Herald Editorial

    As Christians commemorate Good Friday leading up to Easter and Jews
    prepare to celebrate Passover, the story of the Exodus, when the ancient
    Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, there's a communist island
    in the Caribbean where its people remain enslaved and few days can be
    called "good."

    Barely a week after Pope Benedict XVI left Cuba, the repression
    continues. His short visit did nothing to give Cubans hope for a better
    future. The Vatican will point to the Cuban government allowing its
    people to not work this Good Friday as a sign that change is coming, if
    slowly. Yet the pope's visit was one missed opportunity after another to
    speak up for Cubans' basic human rights.

    The pope had no time in his busy schedule to meet with the Ladies in
    White, the mothers, daughters and relatives of those imprisoned for
    peacefully protesting the Cuban dictatorship. Yet these women have been
    loyal Catholics, going to mass every Sunday for years. They have been
    spat on, punched out and knocked down by government-approved mobs. But
    the pope had no time for them.

    In Santiago, there was another powerful missed opportunity when Andrés
    Carrión Alvárez ran through the crowd during the outdoor church service
    yelling, "Down with communism!" He was beaten and carted away — but not
    before getting pummeled on the head with a cot used as a weapon by a
    Cuban Red Cross worker. From the pope and the Cuban church leadership
    there was silence. Mr. Carrión, meanwhile, hasn't been seen since.

    In Havana, Alan Gross, an American contractor working for the U.S.
    Agency for International Development (USAID), will "celebrate" Passover
    in prison. He was arrested in December 2009. His crime? Bringing
    satellite equipment to Cuba's tiny Jewish community. For this, he is
    serving a 15-year prison sentence.

    Again, the pope said nothing, at least publicly, to ask for Mr. Gross'
    release or to defend the fundamental right of all Cubans to be able to
    reach out and communicate with the world.

    Another pope, John Paul II, asked Cuba to open up to the world and for
    the world to open up to Cuba some 14 years ago. Since then, Cubans have
    experienced some small successes — Christmas is now celebrated openly,
    for instance, in a nation that Fidel Castro had proclaimed to be
    atheists and remained officially so for decades. But the crackdowns on
    those who speak out against the regime's abuses continue to this day.

    In preparation for Pope Benedict's visit, the Cuban regime detained
    hundreds of dissidents and shut them out of participating in any of the
    religious observances. They redirected dissidents' phone lines to state
    security and claimed a technical glitch cut off Internet access
    islandwide. Worse still, Cuban Catholic leaders, led by Cardinal Jaime
    Ortega, turned over several Cubans — who had gone into a Havana church
    to seek the pope's attention before his visit — to state security.

    Since the pope's departure, the beatings and detentions by Cuban
    authorities continue. Cuban authorities have locked up at least two
    dozen dissidents, including José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who was among the
    75 detained during Cuba's Black Spring crackdown of dissidents in 2003,
    and his wife, Belkis Cantillo. Their small children are now in the care
    of an aging relative. So much for progress.