Two Pastoral Letters in Twenty Years of Cuban History (Part III)

Dariela Aquique

Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — It was the month of September of 1993. Cubans faced one of the darkest chapters of the country’s political, economic and social history.

The Berlin Wall had fallen and Cuba’s economic crisis (the “Special Period”) was at its most severe: the US blockade was being intensified, the economy was being dollarized and people were leaving the country on rafts and en masse.

It was then that the Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter, a message to Cubans titled Love Bears All. From the perspective of their Catholic faith, the prelates wanted to do something for Cuba.

The government’s reaction, as always, came quickly: a ferocious wave of attacks, launched from all of the country’s media, aimed at demonizing the missive (of which, incidentally, it never once published a single fragment).

Thus, once again, many condemned something they didn’t know anything about. But, since every cloud has a silver lining, this aroused an interest in many people, who were suddenly eager to know what the letter said.

The 300 copies of the letter, initially meant to be distributed only among priests and the more committed religious and laic people of Cuba, became nearly 100 copies.

This year, twenty years later, Cuban bishops have written a second pastoral letter, titled Hope Does Not Disappoint.

Having apparently learned from their mistake, the media have avoided alluding to the document this time around. Now, they are using slightly more ignoble methods, like infiltrating informants in religious communities in order to prevent the distribution of the letter.

The more frightening side to this is that, when we read the first pastoral letter, everything (save some very specific details dealing with the time in which it was written) seems as current as what the second one says. Let us look at a few excerpts from that earlier letter.

“The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32)

We must also reflect on the question of veracity. The invitation to participate in the 4th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party clearly called on people to eradicate what it identified as our double standards, false unanimity, hypocrisy and the silencing of opinion. Without a doubt, a country where such attitudes are profitable is not a healthy or truly free country. Little by little, it becomes a skeptical, untrusting country which, seeking to create a New Man, suddenly finds itself full of false men.

With respect to public life, everyone has a right to being presented with the whole truth. When this does not occur, a chain of rumors, mockery and jokes (sometimes disrespectful of people) is set in motion, and this can act as a pressure valve for the expression of those things that have been repressed internally. The unfettered search for truth is one of truth’s conditions.

Now, I ask, what has changed over these last twenty years? The same problems were addressed last year at the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party. As in Julio Iglesias’ song, “life is still the same”. Let us look at another excerpt.

On Our Relations with Other Countries

It is up to us, to Cubans, to solve the problems we have, among ourselves, within Cuba. It is we who have to seriously ask ourselves why so many Cubans want to leave and actually do leave the country of their birth, why some renounce their citizenship to take on a foreign citizenship, why so many professionals, workers, artists, priests, athletes, military officials, Party militants and anonymous and humble individuals take advantage of any trip, be it of a personal or professional nature, to stay abroad.

We must ask ourselves why Cubans are leaving, when they have traditionally been very attached to their home, when, during colonial times, there was no greater punishment for a Cuban than deportation, the “indefinable torment”, as Jose Marti called it (writing, also, that “a man outside his homeland is like a tree in the middle of the sea” and that “every home abroad is something of a shipwreck”).

I can’t think of something more current than this one issue. Leaving Cuba is for some a kind of life goal. For others, it is an ideal of personal fulfillment. For many, it is the only real and definitive solutions to their problems. For some, it is almost an obsession.