It has been alleged that Cuba is rounding up thousands of homeless and jailing them ahead of the Pope’s visit
The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation claims that an operation is underway in Havana, Holguin and Santiago. The also claim that the operation was approved by Cuba’s highest authorities.
The group say that authorities have jailed “thousands of beggars, panhandlers, ragamuffins, the mentally ill and other vulnerable wanderers, most of them homeless”
While there are many who say that there are no homeless in Cuba, they certainly do not have thousands of homeless people living on sidewalks and downtown doorways.
The Express reports: A statement from the commission said: “This ‘social cleansing’ intends to remove them from the view of pilgrims, foreign journalists and other visitors”.
The group has now publicly asked Pope Francis to intervene and seek the release of those picked up.
Pope Francis flies to Cuba on Saturday for a three-night visit.
His visit has sparked fears that he might speak more bluntly about democracy and human rights than the Communist government would like.
On the first papal visit to Cuba in 1998, Pope John Paul II made pointed comments about prisoners of conscience, saying they suffered “an isolation and a penalty” for merely wanting to “speak their mind with respect and tolerance”.
Pope Benedict offered far more muted remarks about general prisoners in 2012.
Cuba is sensitive to criticism of its human rights record, saying it needs to restrain critics it describes as mercenaries bent on destabilising the government.
Many of Cuba’s dissidents receive funding from US organisations, and activists are routinely detained by Cuban police for demonstrating.
In a gesture to the pope, Cuba released 3,522 prisoners last week.
But these didn’t include any of the 60 political prisoners listed by the commission.
There was outrage earlier this year when street children as young as five were rounded up and caged in detention centres in a cynical drive to smarten up the Philippines capital ahead of a visit by Pope Francis.