HAVANA TIMES, April 8 — A European friend of mine asked me who I thought were the direct beneficiaries of the recent papal visit to Cuba.
She wanted to know if any of the masses of people living through such rough times here received some concrete advantages — however small — from the social and media spectacle that always takes place with each visit by this figure.
After scratching my head to come up with such a list — however short — I could only think of a few who would benefit.
I included those who hadn’t had the fronts of their houses painted in many years. The brief passage of the Holy Father through the streets of Santiago de Cuba and Havana had almost required the government to give a dab of paint to those homes along the route.
In the list I included the drivers of old, beat-up jalopies. They would benefit from a few of the pot holes having been filled in both cities along those thoroughfares used by the Pope Mobile, a converted Mercedes-Benz.
The main benefit for all Cubans was the government making Good Friday an official holiday, meaning that they didn’t have to work on that day.
However, if the income of any ordinary Cubans did receive direct contributions from the visit by the “beloved Pope” to Cuba, it was the aluminum can collectors.
At the end of the Mass in Havana, they were the ones who most appreciated this man’s journey to the island. They were able to fill bags and bags of empty soda cans, which they didn’t hesitate to sell or exchange for a few pesos or articles and thus prolong their eternal subsistence.
That was what happened. The Pope came to Cuba, the people hardly benefited, but the church and the government came reeled in the dividends. Firstly, this helped ensure their future in Cuba over the long run; and secondly, it added to an international image of good relations between them in their desperate present.