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Cuban bishops, priests voice support for protesters planning Monday march

HAVANA

YAMIL LAGE / AFP

John Burger - published on 11/14/21 - updated on 11/14/21

Civic March for Change set to reprise mass protests seen across the island in July.

As Cubans get set to reprise the mass protests seen across the island in July, Cuba’s Catholic bishops and a group of Catholic priests have issued statements supporting calls for greater freedom and dignity. 

Monday’s Civic March for Change is being organized through Facebook by a dissident group known as Archipiélago, which is made up of young artists and activists. The group was formed after the protests on the island this past summer. 

In their letter, the Catholic bishops expressed their concern about a recent increase in a climate of tension and confrontation in Cuba.

“Every person deserves esteem and recognition of his dignity, for his condition as a human being and a child of God, for being a free citizen, subject to rights and duties,” the bishops wrote. “Consequently, every Cuban should be able to freely and respectfully express and share his personal opinions, thoughts or convictions, even when he disagrees with the majority.”

But the bishops warned that “any act of violence between us, whether physical, verbal or psychological, seriously wounds the soul of the Cuban nation and contributes even more to the sorrow, suffering and sadness of our families. A wounded soul is in no condition to build a future of hope. 

“Violence contradicts the will of God,” they said.

The prelates voiced their support for “the involvement of Cubans in a national project that involves and motivates everyone,” one that “takes into account the differences, without exclusions or marginalizations.”

“We believe that it is necessary to implement mechanisms where, without fear of intimidation and reprisals, everyone can be heard and dissatisfaction is channeled in the face of the harsh daily realities that overwhelm so many, especially the most impoverished and vulnerable,” the bishops continued. “It is essential to implement the necessary changes, so long desired, that favor a dignified and happy life for all children, here, in this land of ours.”

The bishops also called for “indulgence” for July 11 protesters who are still being detained by the government. 

‘The Hour of Freedom’

In a different statement, 14 Cuban priests and one deacon called on authorities to exercise restraint in reacting to protests on Monday. The clergymen penned an open letter, addressed to civil and military authorities, members of the National Revolutionary Police, members of the State Security, and “all those who in these days have been summoned to repress the citizen march of November 15.”

The signers identified themselves as priests who “want a Cuba where justice, freedom and peace reign.” They explained that on July 11, thousands of Cubans took to the streets “with a cry that for many years was a muffled cry: Freedom! Freedom to express ourselves without being repressed, so that there is a political plurality, to be protagonists of the march and the destiny of our land.” The letter said that many protesters were “beaten, detained, denigrated. Many are being harshly tried and condemned without having done wrong.”

According to media reports, the Cuban government is calling on their supporters to violently confront the protesters. The marches are to coincide with the first day Cuba reopens its border to tourism, following two years of strict measures to fight COVID-19. 

The Guardian said that Cuba’s communist government has planned a “National Defense Day” for later in the week, “and menacing photos have emerged of government supporters wielding batons in preparation.”

In their letter, the priests said they do not want violence: “We reject the order of combat, the sticks delivered in the work centers, the calls for ‘defense exercises.’”

Reacting to the letter, Cuban dissident Manuel Robles Villamarin, told Aleteia, “Cubans have the right to Rights, we want the violence to cease, and peace to reign. The Cuban people want all Cubans to have the opportunity to live in a free nation. The regime is calling for the repression of men of goodwill who will take to the streets to claim the human rights they deserve as children of God.”

The priests’ letter affirmed that “no Cuban should raise his hand against his compatriot for the mere fact of thinking differently, much less the police who by vocation have the duty to set an example of civility to the entire population, who exist to care for citizens and protect public order. We don’t want to see cops beating and mistreating their own people again. We don’t want blood to be spilled again, we don’t want to hear gunshots again. No, because that is not the path that will lead us to the Cuba that we need and that we all desire.”

Robles Villamarin, a U.S.-based leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, commented: “These are days of great insecurity. Cubans are suffocated by so much poverty, by the absence of rights for more than six decades. It is the hour of freedom.”

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