Shout of ‘Freedom!’ paid for with beating instead
The crowd cheers as the Pope arrives on Monday March 26, 2012 for today's Papal Mass by Pope Benedict XVI in the Plaza de la Revolucion Antonio Maceo in Santiago de Cuba. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/MCT)
MIAMI — He is the man who stood up amid the crowd before a papal Mass in Cuba and shouted “Freedom!”
If his intention was to point out the lack of it, the message was underscored. Security personnel hauled him away, beating him up in the process. Because it happened near a nest of cameras, images were captured and transmitted around the world, a sour sidelight to the pope’s visit.
Internal dissident sources have identified the man as Andres Carrion Alvarez, 38. Along with “Libertad!” (Freedom) he also yelled “Down with Communism!” in Spanish.
The incident took place before the papal Mass at the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba, in an area close to the platform set up for photographers.
As he was removed from the square, Carrion was slapped and beaten violently with a folded gurney by a group of at least three men, including one wearing a Cuban Red Cross uniform.
Carrion’s personal information was confirmed by Alfonso Chaviano Pelaez and by Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a spokesman for Cuba’s Patriotic Union. In the early hours of Friday, Ferrer reported through the digital site Hablalo sin Miedo (Say It Without Fear) that Chaviano had recognized Carrion “but had not been able to report it, first because he did not have means of communication and because his house was under severe police vigilance.”
Until Thursday the telephones of Ferrer and Chaviano had been blocked. The interruption of the phone service was part of a 24-hour police watch. Chaviano said that he confirmed that it was Carrion after exchanging information with a friend and former workmate. The woman told Chaviano that she received a phone call from her husband, who lives in the United States, telling her that he thought he had recognized “Andresito” on a television newscast.
Carrion is married to a doctor. The couple has no children.
“I’ve known him for about 10 years. We live in the same neighborhood,” Chaviano said later in a telephone interview with El Nuevo Herald. “He supports the opposition but never had gone public about it,” Chaviano said. “He was always looked as the typical professional, a very reserved man.”
He also said that Carrion has a degree in social and occupational rehabilitation. However, he has been unemployed for months and he looked worried, Chaviano said. He used to work at the Carlos J. Finlay Clinic.
Chaviano said that the last time he saw Carrion they were in a barber shop. They talked briefly and Chaviano asked him if he had plans to attend the papal Mass. Carrion responded: “I’m going to the Mass and I know what I have to do.”
Next thing Chaviano knew, Carrion was being hauled away in front of the cameras.
Carrion was in custody at a State Security operation unit and as of Friday no one had been able to get information about the conditions of his imprisonment or the state of his health.
Carrion’s detention prompted numerous concerns inside and outside the island. Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman of the Havana-based Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, demanded the government guarantee Carrion’s safety.
In Miami, Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera, as well as Democrat Albio Sires joined demands for Carrion’s immediate release in a news release sent to El Nuevo Herald’s newsroom.
“We call on human-rights organizations such as International Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to monitor this case and to create international awareness of the detention of other activists during the pope’s visit to Cuba,” said the news release.
Preliminary reports, including one from the Miami-based Center of Support and Information of the Cuban Resistance Assembly, counted more than 250 dissidents harassed during the week of the pope’s visit.