Cuban archbishop evacuates Ladies in White from basilica amid fears of police beating

The archbishop of Cuba’s second-largest city helped evacuate 14 womendissidents who had sought refuge at the El Cobre Basilica amid reportsthat police were waiting nearby to beat them, dissidents reportedMonday.

Lady in White member Thaimí Vega alleged, meanwhile, that she suffereda miscarriage after police detained her to keep her from joining theother women for Sunday’s mass at El Cobre, nine miles west of Santiagode Cuba.

The incidents came on a weekend when police arrested about 30 membersand supporters of the Ladies in White around the eastern region ofSantiago alone, dissident Prudencio Villalón reported. Three moremembers were detained Monday.

Villalón, who accompanied the 14 Ladies in White to the Our Lady ofCharity Basilica, said they declared a hunger strike on the stepsafter mass Sunday morning, saying that they had received threats froma large group of police deployed at a nearby junction.

“The police were sending (text) messages to the Ladies in El Cobrewith 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 Garciaarrived around 7 p.m. with two church vans. He did not allow photos ofhim with the women, Villalón said.

It was the second time in as many months that officials of Cuba’sCatholic Church, sometimes accused of being too timid in theirdealings with the communist government, have protected dissidents whosought the protection of temples.

Last month, the bishop of Holguin and a parish priest protected asmall group of opposition activists from a government-organized mob,armed with sticks and rocks, that besieged the church in that easterncity where they had attended a Sunday mass.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega also interceded on behalf of the Havana Ladiesin White in 2010, and now they march after Sunday masses at the SantaRita church without any harassment. But the women in the Santiago areahave been harshly repressed whenever they try to march after Sundaymasses 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 ofCuba’s patron saint, had slipped in through back roads on Saturday.But she and others were arrested nearby and in their home towns tokeep them from attending the mass.

She reported that three of the 14 were detained Monday as they starteda march demanding the release of 12 male dissidents — themselvesdetained Sunday when they went on the streets of Palma to demand safepassage home for the women at El Cobre.

Thaimí Vega told El Nuevo Herald by telephone that she was one of theLadies in White detained by police Saturday as she tried to slip intoEl Cobre. Her story could not be independently confirmed.

Vega, a 22-year-old from Palma Soriano, said police intercepted her ona highway checkpoint near El Cobre around 2 p.m., after finding whiteclothes in her bag. “They told me, ‘you’re not going anyplace.’ ”

She told police that she was about six weeks pregnant and was notfeeling well, Vega alleged between sobs. But police kept her until 9p.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 “nodoubt that she had miscarried,” although she had not been to see adoctor as of Monday. “Those doctors work for the government and whoknows what they could do,” she said.

Vega’s husband, Dunieski Domínguez, 31, a member of the dissidentCuban Patriotic Union, said she told him she was pregnant two weeksago. Vega, who has a five-year-old boy from a previous marriage, saidshe had not seen a doctor to confirm the pregnancy because it was tooearly.