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Cuba: Bloggers Uncomfortable as Pope's Visit Looms

As Pope Benedict XVI‘s controversial visit to Cuba draws closer, online discussion is heating up, even as the country plunges into what Havana Times describes as “Catholic fervor”, ostensibly in an effort “to bring renewed preferential status to a once ostracized institution and gain new devotees.”

The post explains:

The renewed status of the Catholic Church in Cuba comes at a time when the government has sought allies to implement its economic reforms while maintaining strict Communist Party political control over the population.

The resurgence of the Catholic Church of Cuba represents a big change over the first decades of the Cuban revolution when being an outward follower of the Catholic Church or any other religious institution meant being blacklisted at work places, educational centers and in neighborhoods.

Since 1992, Cuban citizens who practice a religion have been allowed to be members of the Communist Party and are no longer discriminated against by the government because of their religious beliefs.

But it is that apparent partnership between communism and Catholicism that is upsetting so many netizens, especially in light of reportedly ongoing human rights abuses and other surreptitious methods of curtailing personal freedoms. To emphasize this point, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo at Translating Cuba, republishes the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christ and Communism, which he calls “obligatory reading”.

The actions of the Cuban government have not gone unnoticed by babalu, who says that over the weekend:

The Castro dictatorship sent throngs of violent and insulting thugs to attack prominent dissidents on the island. The home of one of the leaders of the Ladies in White Laura Pollan was surrounded by a government controlled mob to threaten and intimidate the Ladies in White to make sure they do not mess with the theatrical performance the regime, the Church in Cuba, and the Vatican have planned for the Pope's visit. As of yesterday, their leader, Berta Soler, along with several other Ladies in White, have disappeared.

The closer the date of the visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba comes, the Cuban dictatorship is becoming more nervous and aggressive.

This, on the heels of Cardinal Jaime Ortega's stance against 13 church protesters, makes several bloggers uncomfortable. Of the Archbishop of Havana's action, Without Evasion says:

I don’t understand how you can serve Christ, defender of his people and indeed dissident in his time, while protecting only the powerful. Doesn’t the Cuban Catholic Church grant privilege to those who suffer the most? Aren’t dissidents precisely who are most in need of protection under dictatorship conditions? Why haven’t senior representatives of the clergy never dedicated a Mass in memory of such a worthy and admirable Cuban, Laura Pollán, or to Orlando Zapata or Wilman Villar, and have instead made fervent wishes for the health of that other bellicose and foreign leader, Hugo Chávez? Doesn’t that amount to taking political positions?

At this point, it is too hypocritical to pretend that all is well in Cuba, whether the Pope visits or not. It is also a childish lie to deny that the church is a political and not just a religious institution that has survived, though not in vain, powerful for nearly two millennia. The Bishopric’s note seems to respond more to an official demand of the Cuban government than to a feeling of true Christian faith. And just in case I’m wrong and faith calls for remaining quiet and look away; if, by virtue of that faith, Benedict XVI’s visit should be surrounded by a solemn choreography and by a cloak to hide the reality of our country, I don’t think that is the faith that Cuba needs, and may God forgive me.

Similarly, the action makes babalu come to the conclusion that the Vatian is “tripl[ing] down on Cardinal Ortega and Castro dictatorship”:

Double Down:
The Vatican stood by Ortega in a terse statement from Rome.

‘We approved of the position of the cardinal and the diocese,’ said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Holy See. ‘I have nothing else to add.’

Triple Down:
(Reuters) – The Vatican on Friday condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba ahead of Pope Benedict's trip there next week and said the pontiff was willing to meet Fidel Castro.

The Vatican's statement on the US/Cuba embargo is proving to be just another irritant to the online community, with babalu noting the marked difference in the Vatican's stance when it came to trade embargos against South Africa:

As a public service by Babalu blog we'll again compare Apartheid South Africa's ‘crimes against humanity’ to Castroite Cuba's:

According to Anti-Apartheid activists a grand total of 3000 political prisoners passed through South Africa’s Robben Island prison in roughly 30 years under the Apartheid regime. Usually about 1000 were held. These were out of a South African population of 40 million. In its day, the regime responsible for these incarcerations weathered a relentless campaign of vituperation from every political, press and academic pulpit on the face of the earth until economic sanctions by practically every nation on the face of the earth battered, crippled and finally finished it.

According to the Human Rights group, Freedom House, a grand total of 500,000 political prisoners have passed through Stalinist Cuba's various prisons and forced-labor camps, mostly during the 60′s and 70′s. At one time in 1961, 300,000 Cubans were jailed for political offenses. This was out of a Cuban population in 1960 of 6.4 million. Among these people are THE LONGEST SUFFERING POLITICAL PRISONERS IN MODERN HISTORY.

In the meantime, crackdowns are apparently continuing. Babalu says that:

Yesterday, over seventy members of Cuba's Ladies in White, a peaceful human rights group made up entirely of wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of Cuban political prisoners, were arrested by Cuban State Security as they silently marched down the streets of Cuba. It was the final culmination of an oppressive and despicable operation launched by the Cuban regime beginning on Saturday against the women and other prominent dissidents on the island. With the much heralded papal visit just over a week away, it is an amazing display of intolerance and malice by the Castro dictatorship, and no doubt a manifestation of their fear the pope's visit may become a public triumph for Cuba's courageous human rights activists instead of the public relations coup they are hoping for.

Referring to the same incident, Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter wonders whether actions like these could be indicative of “another Cuban Black Spring“:

Today, nine years later thanks to the sacrifice of the Ladies in White the men unjustly imprisoned in 2003 are no longer in prison. Most of them were forced into exile while a small number remain on the island. The founder of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollán, died under mysterious circumstances on October 14, 2011. The new head of the Ladies in White ‘Laura Pollán‘, Berta Soler was arrested today and remains detained tonight. They continue to demand the release of the remaining political prisoners in Cuba and that human rights be respected.

Elements within the Catholic Church in Cuba have been accused of not defending human rights on the island and on occasion siding with those in power there or ignoring evils perpetrated by the regime which has led to frustration in some opposition circles.

Hopefully, in addition to his important pastoral message, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will address the importance of human rights as he did on April 18, 2008 in his address to the United Nations General Assembly

Hopefully the arrest of 70 nonviolent women attempting to attend Mass and march peacefully through the streets of Cuba on the ninth anniversary of the crackdown that brought the Ladies in White into existence will serve as a bright beacon for all observing the situation in Cuba.

Blogging from Havana, Iván's File Cabinet notes that Cuba is preparing to receive the pope with a “bath of masses”, which he explains is “something exclusive to the olive-green revolution”, ending by saying:

The papal visit has aroused wide register of opinions in Cuba: indifference and applause, reviews and dislikes in a sector of the opposition and Afro-Cuban religions, because the Holy Father is scheduled to meet with them.

Whether Benedict XVI’s visit will make history, as his predecessor John Paul II’s did, remains to be seen. But you can be assured that this Vicar of Christ will be treated to a bath of masses. And sound. As only a regime that has made the public acts a registered trademark knows how.

From his Popemobile and in the two masses he will officiate in Cuba, the Pope will see hundreds of thousands people. While on the island only 10% of the population practices Catholicism. One detail that the German pope should not overlook.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana”, is by Kimli, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Creative Commons license. Visit Kimli's flickr photostream.

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