MIAMI Tuesday, April 17, 2012 _ Cuban police carried out 1,158 political detentions in March _ mostly to keep dissidents away from Pope Benedict XVI _ the most since the mass roundups during the Bay of Pigs invasion five decades ago, a human rights group reported Tuesday.

The report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana came a day after police once again detained Andres Carrion Alvarez, who shouted "Down with Communism" before the pope's mass in Santiago de Cuba last month.

The tally added fuel to complaints that the pope and the Cuban Catholic Church turned a blind eye to the communist government's human rights abuses in their efforts to gain more space for church activities on the island.

The dissident Ladies in White have asked for a meeting with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino "because the repression has grown worse here in Cuba, and what we're seeing is a total silence on the part of the church," group leader Bertha Soler said Tuesday.

The 40-page report, which included names and dates for each detention, was the hardest evidence yet that the government cracked down on dissent roughly at the same time Benedict was calling for freedom during his March 26-29 visit.

More than half the "arbitrary detentions for political motives" and house arrests reported during March took place in the days just before and during the papal visit, the report noted, in a clear campaign to block their participation in papal events. They usually lasted a few hours or days.

The total of 1,158 such detentions for the month, it added, was "the highest single monthly tally in the last five decades, only comparable to the huge sweeps carried out across the country" during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

At that time of the attack by CIA-backed exiles, Cuban security forces rounded up tens of thousands of men and women suspected of sympathizing with the invaders and held them for days in jammed sports fields, theaters and other sites.

Soler said about 60 Ladies in White were arrested during the papal visit and only three managed to slip into the open-air papal Mass in Havana March 28. They were relatively new members of the group who apparently were unknown to security officials.

"It is very important that the church hierarchy, Jaime (Ortega), raise their voices so that the government will stop this repression," Soler told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.

Emails sent to the Vatican media office and Ortega's office at the archdiocese of Havana, seeking comment, were not immediately answered.

Commission leader Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz reported on the pope's last day in Cuba that police had carried out 250 political arrests and blocked scores of dissidents' cellular phones. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi declared on the same day that he had no information on blocked cellphones.

The commission's monthly reports have reflected a sharp increase in the political detentions since Cuban leader Raul Castro, reputed to be a pragmatist on the economy but hardliner on politics, officially succeeded ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008.

The "arbitrary political detentions" averaged 147 per month in 2010, then more than doubled to 343 per month for all of 2011 _ with 796 reported in December, 631 in January, 604 in February and the 1,158 in March.

Sanchez Santa Cruz told El Nuevo Herald last month that he believed the increase in arrests was Castro's reply to growing popular demands for economic reforms deeper and faster than he's willing to put them in place.

His commission's latest report also noted that dissidents Andres Carrion, Sonia Garro, Ramon Munoz and Niurka Luque were being processed for trial on various charges of opposing the government, making them "political prisoners."

In a separate announcement, Sanchez Santa Cruz reported that he had confirmation that Carrion was arrested again Monday. He was beaten and arrested for shouting anti-government slogans just before Benedict began his mass in Santiago, and had been freed April 13.

The second arrest came amid unconfirmed reports that he and dissident Anyer Antonio Blanco were arrested as they staged a street protest in Santiago demanding the release of Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, one of the most active dissidents in eastern Cuba.

Carrion had told the U.S. government's Radio Marti broadcaster over the weekend that police had forbidden him from leaving his hometown of Santiago, meeting with dissidents, making public statements or joining street protests.

Ferrer Garcia, founder of the dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba, was arrested during protest marches April 2 in his hometown of Palmarito del Cauto and neighboring Palma Soriano. Amnesty International considers him a "prisoner of conscience."

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison during a 2003 crackdown on 75 dissidents known as Cuba's Black Spring, and was freed last spring as part of the Cuban government's 2010 agreement with the Catholic Church to free political prisoners.

(c)2012 The Miami Herald