Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega announced Sunday he managed to convince Cuban authorities to lift the month-long ban on street protests by “Ladies in White”—the wives and mothers of political prisoners.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega said the Church was always dealing with political prisoner issues with the Cuban government; In ecclesiastical terms, I would say, for ever and ever. The Archbishop of Havana made his announcement while delivering a mass at the Church of Santa Rita, after which he presided over a march by 12 members of the Ladies in White down the capital's Fifth Avenue.
For three previous Sundays, similar marches were attempted but stopped outside the church by police, who said the group lacked a protest permit. Opposition groups, including the Ladies in White, have recently stepped-up their challenge to government authority by regularly taking to the streets.
The protests have aroused strong criticism of the Cuban regime from Europe, the United States and international human rights organizations, but Havana has so far dismissed it all as a political campaign. The Cuban government refuses to admit it holds political prisoners and accuses the Ladies in White of being mercenaries and agents of US-sponsored subversion on the island.
Havana has come under fire internationally and from activists inside Cuba since the February 23 death of dissident Orlando Zapata, after an 85-day prison hunger strike to demand the release of 26 fellow ailing political prisoners.
A second dissident—independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas, 48—took up the cause with his own hunger strike a day after Zapata's death and has since rejected the advice of his mother and others to drop his protest lest he die.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega also told reporters that the Catholic Church on Sunday had once again asked Fariñas to be more flexible in his stance and end his 68-day hunger strike.