Communist Cuba: Every Pope’s Cynical Synod
While the world viewed Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba as historic, its doubtful that the Vatican will facilitate meaningful change on the island.
From September 19 to the 22, it was Pope Francis’s turn to visit the Castro brothers’ Cuba. This seems to set an unbeatable record, even for our country’s dictator-free future. In fact, this age-old land of tyranny—a totalitarian regime with shades of tropical utopia—has received three visits from God’s representatives on Earth: John Paul II in January 1998, Benedict XVI in March 2012, and now Francis in September 2015.
- Is it worth-while to focus on the last images and letters coming from the inside of the last living utopia on Earth? Is Cuba by now a contemporary country or just another old-fashioned delusion in the middle of Nowhere-America? A Cold-War Northtalgia maybe? Can we expect a young Rewwwolution.cu within that Ancien Régime still known as The Revolution? I would like to provoke more questions than answers.
- Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana City and still resides and resists there, working as a free-lance writer, photographer and blogger. He is the author of Boring Home (2009) and is the editor of the independent opinion and literary e-zine Voces.
None of these pontiffs achieved much more than giving official sanction to reinstate one or another festivals in the religious calendar: Christmas, Good Friday, and so on. But Cuba still has no religious presence in its state mass media outlets, and continues to ban any kind of religious education, even religious culture. Cuba continues to be controlled by the same commanders who imprisoned and expelled hundreds of priests. These are the same men who established an “atheistic” constitution between 1976 and 1992, when geopolitical opportunism motivated them to transform our country into a “secular” state, a Marxist monolith where only a single political party is legal: the Communist Party, as chance would have it.
As Pope Francis’s 78th birthday present, on December 17, 2014, US President Barack Obama and Cuban General Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that their respective countries were entering a new era: an era of high hopes for the rest of the world, and the same old revolutionary rhetoric for the Cuban people.
Pope Francis’s trip to Cuba recalls the events that unfolded during an earlier papal visit for me. On Monday, March 27, 2012, on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in Cuba, I was violently arrested and imprisoned together with hundreds of other social activists, dissidents, and political opponents as a precautionary measure. There were no official charges, and no legal justification for my arrest. I was not allowed to make a phone call, and we were not released until Pope Benedict XVI had left the island. His visit took place under a police operation—the so-called Operation Vote of Silence—that militarized Santiago de Cuba and Havana’s public squares. The Church communities were not even allowed to decide which of their parishioners would attend mass, which turned out to be a dreadful piece of theatrics hijacked by the Ministry of the Interior.
Sadly, in a country frozen in time 56 years ago—now in the hands of a gerontocracy as despotic as it is decrepit—history is repeating itself identically and insultingly four years on. As the Argentine Pope’s sojourn in Cuba drew near, waves of arbitrary arrests intensified. The arrests were accompanied by fascistoid “Acts of a Repudiation” in public places, where the authorities themselves incite groups of citizens into abusing peaceful protesters with horrifying impunity.
Today, the Catholic Church in Cuba lacks leadership. For decades its cardinal and its bishops have responded much more readily to the Castroist government than the Cuban people, who have been left alone, like a flock without a shepherd, or, worse, with shepherds in wicked police clothing. The Catholic Church’s hierarchy is a despicable institution with a talent for hypocrisy — hiding sex scandals and corruption — a suicidal vocation. Once the Cuban people are free again, their faith in the dictator’s theocratic accomplices will never be restored.
The Catholic Church’s failure to speak out about human rights violations in Cuba is a travesty. It is an insolent silence of socialist soutanes. It is the complicit silence of the two fatal attacks the regime carried out against civil society leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, just a few months after the last papal visit to Cuba.
There are significant occasions in history when God will not fit into the ghastly corpse of any church on the face of the earth. These are moments when God can only find salvation from ungodliness in the soul of each human being. Cuba is in the midst of one of those intangible moments. We Cubans have to choose between living on in a state of unaccountable barbarism, or re-establishing a real life.
The world is watching. Miracles take root inside one’s self. Your solidarity is vitally important to the Cubans who have today been arrested again as a “prophylactic” measure, as if we were pathogenic agents of a disease called Freedom.
World, please do more than just watch us. Go a step further, and reach out a helping hand. Because a less fossilized future for Cuba comes down to strengthening goodwill against those who hold our sovereignty to ransom, and our wishes for Nation and Exile.
Pope Francis’s three masses on the island should not have been allowed to become a caricature of the masses led by the German Pope who, less than a year after leaving Cuba, also left the Holy See without providing any kind of credible explanation.