The Pope’s Visit to Cuba: What to Expect

Armando Chaguaceda

HAVANA TIMES, March 22 — There are times when one weighs, with the upmost care, the consequences of their words. This is especially true when these can place cherished friendships at risk, those that we hold with people we admire and respect for their values and views.

Therefore self-censorship doesn’t always operate as a result of external pressure, it can be produced internally.

It can be set off based on fear and the calculation of one’s own interests, as well as when we are forced to make distressing choices while seeking to preserve our affections in a world that is increasingly less generous with friendship.

Nevertheless, there are times when such silence seems too close to hypocrisy and complicity.

The “taking” of church buildings and the preparations for the papal visit to Cuba have been in the news in recent days, and these occurrences have resulted in my having difficult exchanges with my Catholic friends.

In the case of the church occupations, these have nothing to do with people seeking sanctuary or refuge from state terrorism, as often occurred in Central America during the civil wars of the 1980s.

Instead, this is a desperate tactic designed to attract the attention of the leader of the Catholic Church and world public opinion toward the situation of the political opposition here on the island.

Personally, I think such actions miss the mark. Not only is it questionable to occupy a site devoted to spirituality and religious faith, but it creates a situation that threatens the lives of those involved.

On top of all this, these events have resulted in a negative balance for the Catholic Church, which is left indebted to the government for the force required to vacate the buildings.

I might add that this has also injured the Cuban opposition itself, as they have found themselves presented to the uninformed public as a bunch of “disrespectful provocateurs.”

Nonetheless, this affair adds itself to other more serious matters. In recent weeks the Catholic Church has presented an image so favorable to the government that if this continues unchanged (and I hope I’m wrong) this will damage its legitimacy as an autonomous and relevant actor in Cuban politics.

It is a mistake that the institution tells some citizens that there was no possibility for a meeting with them within the Pope’s agenda and then the Vatican proposed a meeting with Fidel, although that hadn’t been planned.

One cannot say there’s no place on the agenda for some people and then declare it open for others.

A similar situation occurred after forging an agreement that guarantees the rights and humane treatment for the Ladies in White, whose struggle and marches one can respect without ideologically identifying with them.

We later found out that this agreement could be breached whenever the dominant party felt like it, and without the guarantor institution (the Catholic Church) speaking out with anything concrete or relevant.

As for the role of the Catholic Church as an actor and humanitarian mediator in Cuba, I maintain my position: One will always have to support that which reduces the suffering of others and opens channels of communication in the midst of conflict situations.

The Catholic Church’s contribution — especially that of the Catholic laity — has been important in promoting the best magazine of social analysis produced on the island (, a publication that sheds light on topics (including for those people on the left) that are prohibited in the official media.

Nonetheless, I think the Church might well take a look at society as a whole (not just the state) as a respectable interlocutor, beyond its increasingly frequent evangelizing calls and its commendable preaching for reconciliation.

For the authorities, their talk of “love and respect” for the Supreme Pontiff seems too overbearing for a non-confessional government. Its ruling elite — which has a phobia for anything autonomous and diverse — appears by pure calculation to be rapidly abandoning the discourse of secularism with calls directed to the people and party activists.

What catches one’s attention is the forced presence — in number and style — of religious themes (see  and ) in a press that is usually resistant to such matters, as well as the expenditures of resources for a papal visit in a country where the word austerity and efficiency increasingly creep up in official speeches while the pockets of citizens are becoming increasingly lighter.

What also seems excessive is the renewed emphasis on promoting a patently nationalist ideology, distant from the 200-years of contributions of Cuban socialism and liberalism, where the Virgin de la Caridad figurine has wound up occupying a leading place in our rich, diverse and plural pantheon of martyrs and heroes.

It is worthwhile to recall that Catholicism isn’t “THE” national culture or religion here (and nor do its values ??dominate concerning the family, sexuality and marriage). There is much Protestantism and some Islam and Judaism, and even some persistent atheism in danger of extinction.

But above all, a great deal of our African-based religiosity and community anchoring is being systematically ignored and discriminated against by more hierarchical and structured religious structures. Meanwhile their practitioners tend to be the real or potential losers of the economic reforms underway.

What’s happening is looking more and more like a bad telenovela about realpolitik – where sweet talk, snubs and smiles are exchanged.

In the meantime, the real issues continue to simmer — and get sorted out — among the elites (politicians and the military on the island, the island’s church and the Vatican, as well as exiled business people and politicians).

Yet for ordinary people like me, my family and my friends, we have little to hope for or expect.

One thought on “The Pope’s Visit to Cuba: What to Expect

  • Unfortunately, the papal visit highlights the desire by disaffected Cubans to have an external solution to an internal problem. During this trip to Latin America, the pope will first visit Mexico. There is nowhere near the outcry from Mexicans to the Pope to include in his visit some public statement decrying the murderous violence perpetrated against Mexicans by the Mexican drug cartels. Yet, this issue is very important to Mexican citizens. They realize however that this problem will and can only be solved by Mexicans. Only Cuba can help Cuba. Hope in foreign press, embargoes, and now the Pope is misplaced.

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