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Cuba crackdown disappoints Pope

Deeply dismayed by Cuba's crackdown, Pope John Paul II has decried harsh sentences against dissidents and implored Fidel Castro to show leniency.

In a letter made public at the weekend, the Holy Father also denounced the execution of three men who seized a ferry in a failed bid to reach the United States.

The plea was conveyed to Castro on Palm Sunday, two days after a firing squad killed the men, who had commandeered the boat and its 50 passengers in Havana Bay on 2 April.

A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the letter had not been publicised to give Castro a chance to respond. Apparently, there was no answer.

Cuba has come under heavy world criticism for sentencing 75 dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years on charges they collaborated with US diplomats to subvert the island nation's socialist system.

Castro has taken a tough stand. On Friday, he accused the top US diplomat in Cuba of encouraging subversive activity. He has defended the executions as necessary to halt what he called a brewing emigration crisis provoked by the United States.


Pope condemns Cuban executions (BBC)
Cuban Catholic activist victim of Govt clampdown (24/4/03)
Fidel Castro attends convent blessing (10/3/03)
Cuban cardinal says Pope's visit changed little (13/1/03)

28 Apr 2003