Monday, September 08, 2008

10 years ago in Havana

From Herald Wire Services Published Wednesday, September 9, 1998, in the Miami Herald

Cubans honor saint as dissidents detained

HAVANA — For the first time in 37 years, Cuba’s Roman Catholics were granted permission to remove a statue of Our Lady of Charity from a Havana church Tuesday night and take it on a 12-block procession through the capital to mark the feast day of the island’s patron saint.

The religious observance coincided with a report of a crackdown on political dissidents.

At least six people were detained after the “most intensive police operation” against dissidents this year, a human rights leader said Tuesday.

Authorities were holding four women and two men from several groups opposed to the government of President Fidel Castro, according to a statement released by Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

They were arrested in simultaneous raids on their apartments about 6 p.m. Monday but it was not known what charges they face, said the statement, which identified the dissidents as Vicky Ruiz, Miriam Garcia, Nancy de Varona, Ofelia Nardo, Luis Lopez and Roberto de Miranda.

The six had attended the sentencing Aug. 28 of dissident Reynaldo Alfaro Garcia, who was given three years in jail. A rare protest demonstration took place outside the Havana court after Alfaro Garcia’s sentencing.

About 20 people shouted anti-Castro slogans while a similar number of counterprotesters chanted pro-Castro cheers, but the encounter was peaceful, according to eyewitnesses.

The international human rights group Amnesty International has called for the release of Garcia, who was arrested May 8, 1997, for calling on mothers of political prisoners to march on the legislature.

Cuba has 381 political prisoners, according to a report by Sanchez’s human rights group that was released July 7.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, was expected to read a pastoral message over a regional radio station Tuesday evening and deliver a homily at the Havana church at night.

A Mass today will end the religious festivities.

Pilgrims from throughout Cuba gathered Tuesday in El Cobre, a mining town near Santiago de Cuba that has the shrine of the original statue of Our Lady of Charity. According to church lore, the statue was found floating on a board at sea in 1612 by three fishermen who credited the Virgin with saving their lives.

Our Lady of Charity was designated the nation’s patron saint in 1936. The image was revered by the mambises, Cubans who fought for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century.

Tuesday night’s event in Havana was to be the second major procession authorized by the Cuban government since the visit of Pope John Paul II in January. The first occurred Monday night, when about 1,500 parishioners accompanied a statue of the Virgin of Regla, patron saint of Havana Bay, through the streets of Regla, a suburb of Havana.

Parallel ceremonies in the Virgin’s honor were held in Havana’s Afro-Cuban community. Santeros revere Our Lady of Charity as Oshun, the symbol of love and femininity. She is said to rule over the rivers.

To Santeros, the Virgin of Regla is Yemaya, queen of the seas and protector of rafters.

Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald

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