Two Pastoral Letters in 20 Years of Cuban History (Part II)

Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — As in all totalitarian regimes, all political parties, groups of activists and any organization that gathered individuals with dissenting ideologies, philosophies or thoughts were abolished in Cuba shortly after the island’s current leadership took power.

This leadership, however, was unable to banish religion altogether – which doesn’t mean the country didn’t experience dark years in terms of the relationship between the government and different churches. The relationship between Cuba’s revolutionary government and religious institutions has had many stages full of contradictions.

Several decades of a rather cold distance followed the National Catholic Congress of 1959, closed at Havana’s Revolution Square and presided over by Cuba’s bishops and the main leaders of the revolution.

The two camps had been well defined: the Cuban State vs. the Catholic Church, or the Cuban State vs. the Religious (Protestants, Afro-Cuban religions and others). The policy of scientific atheism implemented in our country led to the drafting of the 1976 Constitution, which proclaimed Cuba an atheistic State. Later, in 1992, this clause was modified, and the Cuban state was defined as “secular.”

In 1993, Cuba’s Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter titled “Love Bears All”, expressing themselves in favor of broad talks with the government, in view of the economic, political and social crises the country was experiencing at the time. The pastoral letter (needless to say) was not well received by the authorities.

Twenty-two years elapsed from 1976, when Cuba was officially declared atheistic, and 1998, when Pope John Paul II made his historic trip to the island. It is as though relations between Cuba’s religious institutions and the State go through pivotal moments every twenty years or so.

To be more exact, however, the two experienced nearly 33 years of heated differences. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when donations of medicines, clothing and food began to reach the country through Catholic and Protestant churches, these relations were gradually “normalized.”

Like people say, things got so ugly that they simply didn’t have a choice but to loosen the screws.

The Cuban government proclaims that “the State acknowledges, respects and guarantees freedom of conscience and religion; it also acknowledges, respects and guarantees the freedom of all citizens to change their religious beliefs or to have none and to profess, within the boundaries of the law, the religious creed of their preference. The law regulates the relations between the State and the country’s religious institutions.” However, no such transparency actually exists.

Twenty years later, Cuba’s Catholic bishops have written another pastoral letter (“Hope Does Not Disappoint”). Like the previous one, it hasn’t been received too well.

A number of pseudo-religious circles are being infiltrated by agents of State Security, in both Catholic and non-Catholic communities. One of the tasks of these agents is to go over these pastoral letters, line by line, to try and find subversive content, “between the lines.”

As we know, our government has never tolerated any criticisms and has never been open to talks. Nor do they like any kind of unofficial association, no matter what their nature. What do you think?

To be continued…

One thought on “Two Pastoral Letters in 20 Years of Cuban History (Part II)

  • To an outsider like myself, the Catholic Church appears to be the only organized institution in Cuba which could serve as a magnetic source for opposition to the tottering communist government of Cuba. If this is true I think it will get more hostility from the aged state as life on the island continues to decline and a new generation learns about a world it wants to join. It is true that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has arrived. The old communists are old, but the generation of communists behind them will either make massive consessions on their beliefs or will be totally swept away as those in Eastern Europe were. When communist East Germany collapsed all but a few of the teachers in East Berlin were retained in their positions since they were judged propadandists for the state rather than expanders of their students’ mind. Revolutions beget casualties. In 1959 the Cuban middle class were the casualties. If it happens again, the communists will unavoidably be the new casualties and they know the cost of that so well. Thus, I believe the church is in for a difficult time as the moment for national change intensifies on the island nation. Just an opinion by an outsider…

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