Catholic Church in Cuba Condemns Rough Treatment of Peaceful Anti-Government Demonstrators

The Roman Catholic Church assailed the rough treatment of the now internationally known dissident group The Ladies in White by pro-government groups.

On Monday, church officials said that the government of President Raul Castro has assured it that his officials were not behind the violence.

The statement by Orlando Marquez, a spokesman for the Havana archdiocese, follows complaints by the Ladies in White opposition group that members have suffered harassment and rough treatment in recent weeks, including detentions during a protest in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

"Violence of any type against defenseless people has no justification," Marquez wrote in a statement sent to foreign journalists. "The Cuban government ... has communicated to the Church that no order to assault these people came from any national decision center."

Cuban officials insist that the counter-protests at the Ladies' marches are spontaneous, though state security officials are normally present.

The Ladies in White, the wives and mothers of former political prisoners arrested in a 2003 crackdown on dissent, have held weekly marches in the capital Havana for years.

The last of the dissidents arrested in 2003 were released earlier this year under a deal between Raul Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega. But the Ladies have continued their activities, saying they want freedom for about five dozen other prisoners in jail for what they say are political reasons.

Cuba's government says that many of those still behind bars were convicted of violent crimes like hijacking and assault.

It considers the dissidents to be mercenaries and common criminals paid by Washington to destabilize the government. State media has launched a campaign to discredit Ladies in White leaders with secret footage that purports to show them discussing money with U.S. officials and phoning in false information to exile television and radio stations.

The church issued what appeared to be a call to both sides to find common ground.

"The Church at this moment, as in all circumstances, is pursuing the good of the Cuban people, reconciliation and peace through acts and gestures that favor the serene development that Cuba needs," Marquez wrote. "Anything that ... could hurt peaceful existence and harm the good of the nation will never receive any support from those with a Christian view of the world."

This was based on a story by The Associated Press.

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