01/23/2004, 00.00
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Bartholomew I lands in Havana, while arrests of Christians continue

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The Greek Orthodox patriarch, Bartholomew I, was received Wednesday, Jan. 21, by Fidel Castro at the Havana Airport.

The ecumenical patriarch went to Cuba to consecrate the Greek Orthodox church which, though authorized in 1950, was never opened, but was used as a children's theater. The visit will last 5 days. 

This is the first time that a patriarch has visited Cuba after Castro took power in 1959. Now island's two thousand Greek Orthodox residents will have the chance to attend Sunday services and every type of religious function in this church. Having completed proper restoration, the church will be consecrated on Jan. 25 by the patriarch himself, who annointed Castro a member of the Order of St. Andrew, the highest honor given by the Greek Orthodox Church. The visit is surely a sign of major advances in relations between Castro's regime and the Orthodox faith, even if violence and arrests are still the commonplace in Cuba.     

One of the main targets of such repressive policies in Project Varela, carried out secretly by Christian groups living on the island. Project Varela anticipates the possibility of a referendum, according to which openness and freedom is sought for citizens wanting to participate in the country's politics and economy. The project seeks from authorities greater freedom of expression and enterprise, total amnesty for political prisoners, and a transformation of the electoral system to include new and free general elections. In recent weeks the government arrested 75 activists and is threatening the arrest and expulsion of anyone working for Project Varela.
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