Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES, 16 mar — The Cuban government is in a mad race towards a March 26th finish line, the scheduled date for the arrival here of Ratzinger, the current monarch of the Catholic Church. They hope to offer the Pope a primped and preened city so that it looks pretty in the photos.
I usually travel between the west of the capital and the center, where in recent weeks I’ve seen crews deployed along the main thoroughfares in this area: 31st and 41st avenues, 100th Street, Paseo Boulevard and others. These are all receiving the benefit re-painted house facades and the re-paving of many of the streets.
I wondered why so many repairs were being made if the Pope wouldn’t be traveling all over the city. Then it hit me. The makeover isn’t for the Pope but for the hordes of journalists who will be coming to cover the “situation on the island.”
They say that you always want to show a visitor the best image of your home, which doesn’t sound bad – unless it involves a sacrifice as great as this one.
A worker at the Housing Department in one of the western municipalities commented to me that the funding for repairs to certain socially disadvantaged residential complexes had been “redirected” toward work on the main thoroughfares.
Many of these streets are being re-paved so that they come up to the Cuban standard of “very good,” which only takes on meaning when compared with other streets just a few blocks away that don’t even have pavement – like in Cocosolo, in the Marianao neighborhood.
The streets around the Council of State are among the privileged ones…and not because they’re exactly in poor condition.
Work in Revolution Square is impressive. Architectural design that had remained unchanged for decades has given way to works that the government and the Archbishop of Havana designed especially for this occasion.
Sturdy iron beams at the foot of the Jose Marti statue undergird a huge stage that seems more fitting for a Metallica rock concert than the Mass planned for the plaza.
What’s more, much of the turf has been removed and grandstands have been erected on one side, while a large central staircase provides access to the altar from the street level. This whole complex has involved months of work by designers and construction crews for an event that won’t last for more than a few hours.
Although the church has donated much of the financial resources for this hurricane-resistant altar, it’s apparent that the logistics, especially the labor, has been supplied through government funding…or, in other words, our resources.
Notwithstanding, the people were never asked how our resources should be allocated; we were only asked to welcome the Pope “with affection and respect.”
If anyone has criticisms about the homophobic positions held by the Catholic Church, or if they wish to show off the advances made in Cuba regarding the right to abortion, this won’t be the time or place.
A report from IPS also noted that a protocol home was built near the Basilica del Cobre in eastern Cuba for Ratzinger’s stay on the day of his arrival.
It is a reinforced concrete building for which the church spent US $86,000, excluding the restoration of the shrine of El Cobre, 12 miles from Santiago de Cuba – and investment that amounted to around US $12,000.
Like in Revolution Square, the government has had to spend a good portion of its own modest financial resources and labor on the event, except that these figures haven’t been disclosed.
I wonder if Cuba in a position to cope with this shifting of funding? Hasn’t the government been demanding planning, order and respect for institutions? Are there any real limits for spending on this?
Presumably, many government institutions and state-run construction companies, supply facilities, and security agencies had to modify their annual plans, budgets and priorities.
Can the National Comptroller sanction these actions for being outside the budget that was approved by the National Assembly in December 2011?
The worst thing is that everything has been done to create glamor around an event that is elitist, even if many thousands of people attend the public masses.
I think there’s a difference between the just defense of Cuban’s freedom of worship in any religious denomination and the spending of public resources on tinsel to blind the judgment of Benedict XVI and foreign journalists.