New York Times

March 2, 1958.  p. 32.


Church Plea Irks Batista’s Regime

Papers and Radio Publish Call for Unity in the Face of Request for Silence


By R. Hart Phillips

Special to The New York Times

            HAVANA, March 1—An appeal by the Roman Catholic hierarchy for the formation of a “government of national union” caught the regime of President Fulgencio Batista by surprise today and caused considerable chagrin in Government circles.

            This was demonstrated by a request from the Presidential Palace, immediately after the declaration was made last night that al newspapers and radio stations withhold it from publication and broadcast.

            Manuel Cardinal Artega y Betancourt, Archbishop of Havana, headed the list of signers. The declaration called for a new unified regime to “prepare for the restoration of normal political life.”

            President Fulgencio Batista declared this morning: “I shall continue in office and hope that the public will freely choose their new officials in the scheduled elections.”

            His statement came after a night-long Cabinet meeting in which his ministers resigned in accordance with the electoral law since the majority will run for elective posts next June 1.

            Despite the requests from the Presidential Palace, every newspaper in the capital carried the hierarchy’s appeal and radio stations repeated its text throughout the morning. The appeal appears to have had a profound effect.

            Throughout the last fourteen months, since open rebellion began with the landing of an expedition led by Fidel Castro, rebel leader, various bishops and archbishops have appealed to the people to bring about a restoration of peace. However, this is the first time that the Cardinal has added his voice and influence to such efforts.

New Ally Discerned

            Enemies of President Batista’s Government have long demanded a “nonpolitical provisional Government” as the means of holding impartial elections and restoring peace. With the appeal of the Church for a “government of national union” they consider they have gained a powerful ally. However, the statement did not clarify what was meant.

            The reaction of some members of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement here has been mixed. Some expressed opposition to any ecclesiastical interference in political life.

            Despite the fact that there is a state of virtual civil war centered in Oriente Province, where constitutional guarantees are still in suspense, the Administration is going ahead with election preparations. Two opposition parties, the People’s party, headed by former President Ramon Grau San Martin, and the Free people’s party, whose candidate is Dr. Carlos Marquez Sterling, have announced that they will participate.

            At the same time, it is noticeable that there is little enthusiasm even among the Government parties. Election posters are going up slowly and it is said that few orders have been placed for campaign literature.

            The rebels are attempting to prevent elections under the Batista regime and are said to have been warning prominent opposition leaders against becoming candidates.

Navy Chief Accused

            A petition has been sent to the Supreme Court by a special judge, Dr. Francisco Alabau Trelles, asking that criminal charges be placed against Rear Admiral José Manuel Rodriguez Hernández, Chief of Staff of the Cuban Navy, for alleged torture of a former Navy captain, Dionisio San Roman. Captain San Roman headed a revolt of naval personnel in conjunction with rebels in Cienfuegos last September.

            This is the first time a judge has attempted to bring members of the armed forces of the Batista regime to court.

            Judge Alabau also instituted proceedings to charge Maj. Esteban Ventura of the Havana police and other officials and members of the armed forces with the murder of Alejandro González Brito, a Navy officer involved in the Cienfuegos revolt. Major Ventura is in charge of a police section attempting to suppress terrorism and revolutionary activities.

            A fire last night in a warehouse at Santiago de Cuba destroyed sugar and the building to the extent of $500,000. Eighty thousand bags of sugar were stored there.