The archbishop of Cuba’s second-largest city helped evacuate 14 women dissidents who had sought refuge at the El Cobre Basilica amid reports that police were waiting nearby to beat them, dissidents reported Monday.
Lady in White member Thaimí Vega alleged, meanwhile, that she suffered a miscarriage after police detained her to keep her from joining the other women for Sunday’s mass at El Cobre, nine miles west of Santiago de Cuba.
The incidents came on a weekend when police arrested about 30 members and supporters of the Ladies in White around the eastern region of Santiago alone, dissident Prudencio Villalón reported. Three more members were detained Monday.
Villalón, who accompanied the 14 Ladies in White to the Our Lady of Charity Basilica, said they declared a hunger strike on the steps after mass Sunday morning, saying that they had received threats from a large group of police deployed at a nearby junction.
“The police were sending (text) messages to the Ladies in El Cobre with things like ‘we’re waiting here to give you all such a beating,’” said member Belkis Cantillo, whose daughter was among the 14 women.
A priest in El Cobre telephoned Santiago Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, who also serves as head of the Conference of Cuban Bishops, and Garcia arrived around 7 p.m. with two church vans. He did not allow photos of him with the women, Villalón said.
It was the second time in as many months that officials of Cuba’s Catholic Church, sometimes accused of being too timid in their dealings with the communist government, have protected dissidents who sought the protection of temples.
Last month, the bishop of Holguin and a parish priest protected a small group of opposition activists from a government-organized mob, armed with sticks and rocks, that besieged the church in that eastern city where they had attended a Sunday mass.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega also interceded on behalf of the Havana Ladies in White in 2010, and now they march after Sunday masses at the Santa Rita church without any harassment. But the women in the Santiago area have been harshly repressed whenever they try to march after Sunday masses at El Cobre or the Santiago Cathedral.
El Nuevo Herald’s calls to García’s office in Santiago went unanswered.
Cantillo said the 14 women at El Cobre, which holds the image of Cuba’s patron saint, had slipped in through back roads on Saturday. But she and others were arrested nearby and in their home towns to keep them from attending the mass.
She reported that three of the 14 were detained Monday as they started a march demanding the release of 12 male dissidents — themselves detained Sunday when they went on the streets of Palma to demand safe passage home for the women at El Cobre.
Thaimí Vega told El Nuevo Herald by telephone that she was one of the Ladies in White detained by police Saturday as she tried to slip into El Cobre. Her story could not be independently confirmed.
Vega, a 22-year-old from Palma Soriano, said police intercepted her on a highway checkpoint near El Cobre around 2 p.m., after finding white clothes in her bag. “They told me, ‘you’re not going anyplace.’ ”
She told police that she was about six weeks pregnant and was not feeling well, Vega alleged between sobs. But police kept her until 9 p.m., when they put her on a passing truck for the trip home.
Vega said she started to bleed profusely once at home and had “no doubt that she had miscarried,” although she had not been to see a doctor as of Monday. “Those doctors work for the government and who knows what they could do,” she said.
Vega’s husband, Dunieski Domínguez, 31, a member of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union, said she told him she was pregnant two weeks ago. Vega, who has a five-year-old boy from a previous marriage, said she had not seen a doctor to confirm the pregnancy because it was too early.