As Pope Benedict XVI got ready to deliver his first mass in Santiago de Cuba to tens of thousands of people on Monday, a man in the crowd burst out yelling “down with Communism” and “there’s no freedom in Cuba.”
Univision’s cameras caught the moment as the man was whisked away from the plaza by plain clothes security agents.
He was subsequently beaten with a stretcher by another man wearing a Red Cross vest, prompting speculation on whether this man was falsely using the Red Cross’s insignia.
As the protestor was taken from the plaza, our reporter on the ground, Leon Felipe Gonzalez tried to ask him a few questions, however the man’s whereabouts and identity are currently unknown.
In the lead up to the Pope’s visit numerous protests have taken place. The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) a peaceful movement fighting for political prisoners’ freedom , have been warned to stay away from the Pope’s mass and security forces are blocking the exits from their homes. Local journalists critical of the government have also been “exiled” to cities outside Santiago or Havana, to keep them from showing up to the Pope’s events.
Just three days ago Pope Benedict XVI said communism no longer works in Cuba and during his first mass in Cuba, urged its people to build a “renewed and open society”.
In an apparent effort to balance his remarks however, he criticized capitalist greed on Monday, blaming the economic crisis on “the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families.”
The Pope also made carefully worded statements on Monday which appealed to Cuban exiles as well as to Cubans suffering from the forty year old U.S. embargo on the island.
“I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be,” he said. On Tuesday, the Pope will visit the sanctuary of Cuba’s most important religious icon, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre. He will then head to Havana where he will meet with President Raul Castro.