HAVANA, May 3, CMC – Cuban dissidents, who occupied a Havana church days before Pope Benedict XVI visited the island, have rejected claims by Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega that they had criminal records and were largely uneducated.
Members of the 13-member group told reporters here on Wednesday that one of them is an architect and others were educated in a variety of jobs and professions, such as computer technician, sports trainer, book-keeper and forensic technician.
“I can only say that the 13 are a perfect reflection of Cuban society, in which there is everything,” said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, who described Ortega’s comments as “incredible.”
Ortega, who critics accuse of being too friendly with the Raúl Castro-led socialist government, sparked a firestorm of controversy last week when he criticized the 13 dissidents during a speech at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
“All were old delinquents,” he said, adding that they “lacked a level of culture”.
He described one as suffering from mental problems and another as having returned to Cuba by authorities in the United States after serving six years in prison there.
The US “excludable” was Carlos Miguel López Santos, who has claimed that US authorities returned him after mistaking him for another man accused of terrorism, said María López Báez, head of a Havana chapter of the Cuban Human Rights Commission.
Another of the 13 suffers from mental problems, said López by phone from Havana. She claimed that those problems were created by the government repression.
López said 11 of the 13 were members of the little known Republican Party of Cuba (PRC) and two of the Frank Pais November 30 Movement.
The group had occupied Our Lady of Charity Church in Havana on March 13, and Ortega asked the Cuban government to force them out the next day.