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The Cuba the Pope Leaves Behind

Pope Benedict XVI‘s trip to Cuba has come to an end, a visit bookended by the Castro brothers: President Raul Castro greeting the pontiff at the airport and Fidel Castro meeting with him before his departure yesterday. But bloggers are suggesting that despite the Pope's message of change and hope for the future, it looks like business as usual on the island.

Diaspora blogger Uncommon Sense posted an extensive list of people who have reportedly been arrested, saying:

The Castro dictatorship is using Pope Benedict XVI's visit as an opportunity to settle accounts with some of its fervent opposition, unleashing a wave of arrests surely to generate the condemnation of the world — if the world bothered to notice.

The numbers are uncertain, in the hundreds, if not more.

More impressive are the names, each one an example of courage and faith that remain strong despite the odds against them. Each one a patriot.

Laritza Diversent, who lives in Cuba, admitted that she hadn't intended to write about the papal visit, but changed her mind to blog about “the wave of repression that has preceded [his] arrival and that accompanies it”:

I would like to feel myself blessed by your arrival, but it is not the case. Thousands of arrests, cleansing the streets of indigents, police operations, house arrests, telephones cut off, only because of your visit to Cuba.

In my prayers to God, I ask…that we of the resistance may have sufficient strength to withstand the fear and repression, and to strengthen our voices in favor of Freedom.

Despite our faith, our reality is different: arrest and silence, repression and fear, simple hypocrisy; and your arrival, Your Holiness has come to remind us of it.

Havana-bsed Without Evasion said that “at the moment that [she was] uploading this post”:

There are operatives around the houses of many opponents, dissidents and civil society activists in Cuba. Such is the case with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Many cell phones have been cut off and fixed telephone lines interrupted.

Her compatriot, Iván García, noted that “not all Cubans are happy about the visit of the Pope”. He went on to blog about an elderly man who was targeted in the clean-up operation preceding the papal visit:

Eladio was picked up by a joint operation of the public health authorities and police, and driven to an unknown location. In this ’cleansing operation’ also loaded up with homeless beggars, the insane, hustlers and alcoholics spread like an arrow across the city.

It is typical of the Cuban government to create an artificial environment for VIPs. From painting walls to repairing streets and planting trees where visitors will pass by.

The government fears that dissident groups will shout slogans or deploy banners in the course of two Masses that the Pope will officiate on the island on March 26 in Santiago de Cuba and March 28 in Havana.

The Ladies in White and dissidence have requested a minute of his attention. The Cuban Church’s response is that his agenda is very full. But there will always be room to chat with Fidel Castro.

If there is anything the beggars and dissidents “of the barricade” agree on, it is that this papal visit has brought more harm than good.

The fact that the pontiff left Cuba without giving a hearing to members of the opposition has disappointed many. At Translating Cuba, Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo said:

Benedict XVI should speak at the morning Mass of the arrests of citizens in Cuba, of the beating received yesterday by a person who, during his Mass, of the abuses the Cuban government inflicts on its population, and if he does not he is, in some way, an accomplice to this tyranny, he would be visiting a country where people in power once proscribed his religion and ordered the murder of its priests and the faithful.

These are the same people with whom the Pope is conversing fraternally now. I am not saying not to do it, diplomacy has its uses, but they should be in the service of goodness and justice, and as he meets with these assassins he should at least do the same with those of us who struggle against them in a peaceful manner.

Nicolas Jimenez, writing at babalu, said that his disappointment extended to the attitude of the Church as a whole when it comes to Cuba:

As a Catholic of Cuban descent, the way the Church deals with Cuba is painful to watch.

It's in large part because of my Catholic faith that I understand freedom as being just as important to our fulfillment of God's will (and our ability to become closer to Him) as any of our physical needs—and neither should be sought at the expense of the other.

It's also why I believe that faith without works is dead…where there [is] less tumultuous state tyranny (which is just as damaging to the spirit), the Church sometimes seems to err on the side of subtlety and stability. If we… can't turn to the Church for clear leadership on these less tangible (but no less important) moral imperatives… if the Church can't stand up directly (peacefully, of course) to a tyrant who not only banned religious celebrations, but replaced them with celebrations of himself…

Well… then to whom are we supposed to turn for that leadership?

Pope Benedict XVI could do all this with a simple meeting. That doesn't seem too much to ask. Just him… and some of the most devout in his flock… in the same room. I've been racking my brain for a (good) reason a Pope wouldn't do this tiny thing… and I've come up with nothing.

Fellow babalu contributor Alberto de la Cruz added:

While several opposition groups in Cuba along with journalists and activists throughout the world have raised concerns about the fate of the unknown Cuban dissident who yelled “down with communism” during a mass by Pope Benedict XVI on Monday, the Catholic Church in Cuba as well as the Vatican have been eerily silent. The same can be said for the hundreds of dissidents and human rights activists that were rounded up like cattle by the Castro dictatorship in the days preceding and during the papal visit to the island. Neither the pope, the Church, nor the Vatican have expressed a public and specific concern, let alone outrage for their Cuban host's latest victims of repression.

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, meanwhile, recognised that:

The Pope's message is in sharp contrast to both the militaristic image and message projected by Raul Castro and the dictatorship. A low point captured on video by international media was the detention of a man who shouted “down with communism” who was taken away and beaten by men dressed in Red Cross uniforms prior to the Pope's mass in Santiago de Cuba. His whereabouts remain unknown.

His Holiness has stated that Marxist ideology does not correspond to reality and Cuba needs a different model…that the dialogue initiated by Blessed John Paul II in 1998 with the Cuban dictatorship must include the Cuban democratic opposition if the Church is to play a role as mediator. In the short run this may not serve the Church's own interests due to the regime's violent anti-christian history but it would serve the common good. This is the underlying reason as to the importance of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI recognizing and meeting with the democratic Cuban opposition.

That meeting did not happen. But the one with Fidel Castro did. Up until the last moment, babalu was hoping “that the pope would stand up for Cuba's oppressed people and stand up to the Castro dictatorship”:

Instead, with only hours remaining in the pope's visit, all we have received is much disappointment and disillusionment. This is not to say we expected anything different, but it is to say that we hoped, we prayed, we pleaded with the pope for something much more substantial.

The pope is scheduled to meet with retired dictator Fidel Castro…we do not know what they will talk about. However, we can be quite certain there will be no meetings with the Ladies in White or other dissidents since the pope has outright refused to meet with them.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that the pope's last hours in Cuba will be no different than his last two days in Cuba. We prayed for hope and all the pope delivered was disillusionment.

So what is the Cuba that the Pope has left behind? Both babalu and Capitol Hill Cubans, citing a report from the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, suggest that it could be a country of even greater repression than before:

Former Cuban political prisoner Iván Hernández Carrillo has revealed the following text being sent by Castro's secret police to pro-democracy activists:

‘As soon as the #PapaCuba leaves, we are going to disappear all of you.’

Blogger Miriam Celaya summed it up this way:

It is possible that the maximum leader of the Catholic Church doesn’t know that when he officiates at the public mass in Civic Plaza* in Havana on March 28, he will not only be offering his blessing to the people of Cuba, but also sealing the first act of Revolutionary Reaffirmation called by the Cuban government under umbrella of a religious celebration, with the consent and approval of the Catholic hierarchy of the Island.

Some Cubans have waited in vain for a note of protest from the Archbishop at such a politicization of what is supposed to be a pastoral visit to reaffirm faith in God, and which, by the work and the grace of the Castro-Catholic romance, has turned out to be — at least in appearance — another march in support to the government.

Surely, when Benedict XVI lifts off from Cuban soil and returns to the peace and meditation of his Vatican, he will leave behind a people even less Catholic than his predecessor, John Paul II, left behind 14 years ago.

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