At 2:00 p.m local time on 26 March, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Santiago de Cuba, making this the second visit by a Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church to the Caribbean island in 14 years.
For several days, the area surrounding the capital's Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) has been swarming with builders, sound engineers, security officers, tourists and curious locals. In the middle of the square, opposite the stern faces of the guerrilleros, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto Che Guevara, and sheltered by the monument to the National Apostle, José Martí, lies the podium from which the Pope will address his Havanan parishioners on Wednesday March 28.
Amongst so much activity, the deployment of the police is striking, especially in a society that is not used to constant police presence. Where before there was one uniform, now there are three, in neighborhoods and areas considered “troublesome” there are special police troops and the streets are teeming with cars like never before.
With the arrival of “His Holiness,” everyone is on their best behaviour. The country's leadersip appeals to the common ground between Marxism and Christianity [es] and asks the population to give Benedict XVI a respectful and warm welcome. Meanwhile, factions of Cuban dissidence make their political demands [es].
The internet, especially Twitter, has become a battleground for Cuban dissidents and government supporters. Currently the hashtags #papacuba (Pope Cuba) and #benedictocuba (Benedict Cuba) are being used intensely by each side in order to transmit their messages to a wider audience.
The majority of users welcomed the arrival of the Pope:
@lisinamibia: #BenedictoCuba ya esta(sic) al pisar tierra cubana, la alegría es grande en el pueblo de Cuba, bienvenido su santidad.
@juliob14: En #Cuba no encontrarán niños mendigando en la calle. Todos estudian gratuitamente. Ese es mi país. #BenedictoCuba
@Laguantanamera: Te espera un pueblo honesto, honrado, trabajador!!! #BenedictoCuba
Many of those who supported the #PapaCuba hashtag retweeted @yoanisanchez‘s tweet:
#cuba Muchos impedidos de salir de sus casas, otros arrestados en calabozos policiales, teléfonos cortados, advertencias hechas #PapaCuba
@mijailbonito: Cubavisión Internacional intenta vincular pensamiento de #PapaCuba con pensamiento de la “revolución” #cuba
@diariodecuba: pésima realización televisiva. Miles de personas en la carretera hasta Santiago. ¿Cuánto ha costado esa movilización? #PapaCuba
Up to now, besides the Pope's previous statements, he has not supported either side. What is undeniable is that, without intending to, Twitter is hosting a highly political atmosphere, in which every gesture will be carefully analysed by the other side.
Thousands of people will congregate in the streets of Havana to welcome Benedict XVI, who will officiate a mass on Wednesday March 28.
What is next? We'll have to wait and see.