Miami, FL – As His Holiness Pope Francis prepares to embark on his first official papal visit to Cuba this coming weekend, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC) feel obliged to provide a glimpse into a Cuba His Holiness will not be exposed to, willingly, by Cuba’s current regime.

This Cuba includes the Ladies in White, who conduct their weekly nonviolent protests to demand the release of Cuba’s political prisoners, and for the respect of basic human rights in their own country. Many activists from around Cuba, including José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuba’s Patriotic Union (UNPACU) have come together to show solidarity in a growing display of support for the same cause. It should be noted that the Ladies in White, along with other human rights and pro-democracy activists, have been physically harassed, beaten, and detained by Cuba’s state security apparatus, for the past twenty two consecutive weeks. Just last weekend, almost 50 members of the Ladies in White were violently arrested, some of them dragged forcefully through the streets of Havana. Last night in Holguin, members of the same group were accosted and forcefully detained for several hours.

During previous papal visits, these activist groups have been physically impeded, detained, had their cell phones cut-off, and experienced other forms of harassment and oppression by the communist government. FHRC and CANF expect these nonviolent activists to receive similar treatment during the visit of Pope Francis as well.

In addition, although Pope Francis may be exposed to some of the 3,522 prisoners who were pardoned in anticipation of the Pope’s upcoming visit, His Holiness will be shielded from seeing Cuba’s remaining political prisoners, the vast majority of whom did not receive pardon by the Cuban regime last week. These political prisoners include Vaclev Havel Award winning graffiti artist, Danilo Maldonado Machado “El Sexto,” who has been unjustly imprisoned, without trial, since last December for little more than attempting an artistic performance. Since beginning a hunger strike for his release, Maldonado has been isolated and denied visitation rights. A list of political prisoners supported by FHRC and CANF can be found at www.fhrcuba.org.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis once said, “it is necessary for Cuba and other nations, to undertake a plan to transform some structures and in particular their political institutions, to replace regimes which are corrupt, dictatorial or authoritarian, for governments which are democratic and participatory. That there be free participation of citizens in governance, security of law, and the respect and promotion of human rights, stand as imperative requirements and necessary to tend to the development of man, of all mankind.”

CANF and FHRC urge Pope Francis to pay special attention in his visit to today’s Cuba, whose authoritarian regime still exclude the important tenants he once professed for the betterment of the Cuban people, and all mankind.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (“FHRC”) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 1992 to promote a nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba by empowering independent Civil Society within Cuba. FHRC maintains regular contact with human rights defenders and civic activists who are working for change in Cuba through nonviolent means.

The Cuban American National Foundation’s mission is to advocate for a non-violent transition to a free and democratic Cuba, a nation that fosters economic prosperity with individual equality and social justice for all; upholds the rule of law and protects the social, economic and political rights of its entire people. To that end, CANF seeks to engage, support and empower Cubans on the island to become the architects of their own destiny by uniting, organizing and reclaiming their inalienable rights. In the continuation of the struggle for those ideals, the Cuban American National Foundation reaffirms its sacred commitment to Cuba and all Cubans.

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photo credit: General Audience with Pope Francis via photopin (license)