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Saturday, January 17, 1998

Cuban dissidents gather in Rome before pope's trip to Cuba | Associated Press

Associated Press, January 17, 1998

Cuban dissidents gather in Rome before pope's trip to Cuba
4.59 p.m. ET (2346 GMT) January 17, 1998


ROME (AP) --- Seeking to capitalize on the pope's trip to Cuba, 15 Cuban dissidents gathered in Rome on Saturday to press for greater freedoms in the communist island nation and the release of political prisoners.

The dissidents asked the pontiff to appeal for the respect of human rights and urged Italy's political parties to press for an end to totalitarianism in Cuba.

"The consensus is that in terms of a spiritual reawakening, the pope's visit is very important, and that is ultimately important for the future of the Cuban nation,'' said John Suarez, a spokesman for the meeting sponsored by Cuba Libera (Free Cuba).

Cuba Libera is an Italian organization that promotes human rights in Cuba. It was founded by Gianni Pilo, a Parliament deputy from the conservative Forza Italia party.

"We know that when the pope goes there, there will be 2,000 or 3,000 journalists there, but the exiles won't be,'' he said.

John Paul II leaves Wednesday for a five-day trip to Cuba --- his first to the communist nation.

Among those attending Saturday's gathering were Mario Chanes de Armas, a former comrade of Cuban leader Fidel Castro who spent 30 years in Cuban prisons; Ricardo Bofill, co-founder of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights; Dariel Alarcon Benigno, a former guerrilla companion of Che Guevara; and Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez, recently released from 22 years in jail.

When Castro came to Rome a year ago, he was received with acclaim by the Communist Refoundation, an Italian party that provides key support to Italy's center-left government.