Cuba Diverts Scant Resources for Pope

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.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.


10 thoughts on “Cuba Diverts Scant Resources for Pope

  • March 19, 2012 at 10:36 am
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    Moses,

    I have a few hundred dollars to wager that neither the deaths of Fidel and Raul will end the embargo .

    The U.S foreign policy is predicated upon making the world safe for capitalism and Cuba’s socialism undemocratic as it is (no problem for U.S policy) is the threat of a good example that is feared above all .

    True the GOUSA uses the fiction that Fidel and Raul eat babies for breakfast to make the dumbed-down U.S public support the war on the revolution but no rational person takes that seriously.

    Except, of course imperialists, like you who can read “Killing Hope” and disagree with historical fact because it runs counter to the fictions you must believe to justify the evil that is imperialism, that is U.S. foreign policy. that is the U.S. war on Cuba’s socialism .

    You speak of Blum’s “hatred for U.S. foreign policy ” as if he were not justified in that hatred and it is impossible for anyone moral or logical to not be virulently opposed to it once its barbarity and history are understood.

  • March 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm
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    With respect, Blum’s introduction ( I just re-read it) it is just more pseudo-intellectual babble masking his underlying hatred of American foreign policy. Unlike my Cuban counterparts and their syncophants, I simply do not agree with Blum’s summation yet I respect his right to express it. The US embargo against Cuba continues because (write this down) the people who support it are more powerful than the people who oppose it. Simple. The embargo will end when the advantages gained by ending it are greater than risks associated with pissing off the Miami mafia. David Carville, a well-known democratic political strategist who managed the first Clinton presidential campaign remarked once about the possibility of ending the embargo against Cuba during the Clinton presidency. He said “As long as Cuba means Castro, and Castro means Communist, the embargo will continue. It ain’t rocket science”.

  • March 17, 2012 at 9:52 pm
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    Sorry Moses but you do not know what socialism is and isn’t and you need to learn those things.

    You evidently have not read the introduction to “Killing Hope” or you would not be saying what you do about the intentions of U.S foreign policy .

    Socialism sans democracy is not socialism. Since there has never been a democratic socialist economy anywhere in the world , you nor anyone else can say that it is a failure .

    As for the embargo, why does the U.S. not end the embargo and let Cuba fall of its own faults?
    Blum answers that question in his introduction.

    Read it.

  • March 17, 2012 at 8:07 am
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    Socialism IS a failure John. It has never worked. Worse, the utopian Socialist State you desire is antithetical to human nature. I live in the real world. Cuba exists, barely, in the real world. The US embargo against Cuba is the best excuse the Castros could have wished for to justify their draconian system of injustices. Myanmar suffered a similarly lengthy embargo yet managed to evolve and shows promise today of becoming a more democratic and open society. The “top down” form of governance in Cuba has another name, since you like labels…totalitarianism. Blum has done and continues to do an excellent job historically delineating actual and alleged US involvement in the internal affairs of foreign governments. He subsequently opines that these interventions, largely to propogate US interests, as an evil act. I do not agree. Protecting US corporate investment in Costa Rica against the threat of nationalization protects US interests in general not just the rich shareholders. The cold war was fought against an enemy who had the intent “to bury” American interests and our way of life.
    US policy is far from perfect, largely due to the fact that it has been carried out by far from perfect people. Winston Churchill once said that “western democracy was not perfect but it was the best political system available”. I couldn’t agree more.

  • March 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm
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    Since socialism is run from the top in Cuba and decisions are not made at the worker level , it is state socialism and not socialism in the classic (democratic) sense . That the state is a benevolent director, there is no doubt but the problems that fill these pages of the HT are those created by a stifled democratic economic set-up.

    Vietnam is state socialist and has a growing capitalist portion of its economy as does China, is open to U.S exploitation and hence no threat to capitalism.

    The main thrust of U.S foreign policy has been crushing socialism since its invasion of the nascent Soviet Union back around 1920.

    Most of the over 50 interventions since World War II have been to prevent, crush, overthrow or weaken any socialist movement anywhere in the world.

    In this 100 year effort the United States has supported dictators infinitely worse than anything they have accused Fidel of being , the big difference is that Fidel meant it every time he said “Socialismo o muerte ” and the capitalists that own and run U.S foreign policy knew it.

    Hence the 50 year U.S. war on Cuba.
    You have things backwards. Cuba is not preventing the U.S from selling anything.
    The U.S is preventing Cuba from being able to buy and sell what it needs STRICTLY to immiserate the country to the point that socialism will look like a failure, so the Cuban people will rise up and throw out socialism and install another dictator pledged to support capitalism .
    That is what the 50 year U.S embargo is all about .

    Have you read “Killing Hope” written by William Blum? Check out the website and try reading the rather lengthy “Introduction” and get your facts straight.

  • March 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm
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    I understand your argument. The problem is that your definition of “socialism” has not nor ever will exist. It is a circle jerk to debate whether or not Cuba is a socialist state or not. By constitutional definition, Cuba says they are Socialists. That is good enough for me. The finer point I hope to make clear is that anti-Castro policy and regime change is not anti-socialist nor pro-capitalist. It is what it says it is, ANTI-CASTRO. Viet Nam is a socialist regime yet the US is their largest trading partner. We want to sell iPad 2s to everyone who will buy them. We don’t care who or what you say you are. We DO care when you try to stop us from selling. That is the problem we have with Cuba.

  • March 16, 2012 at 5:39 pm
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    John, you are wrong again. Capitalisim directs scarce resources toward highest and best use. Paving a street generates a very low retrun on investment and is certainly not highest and best use. “Dressing up” the Plaza de Revoluction generates untold dividends through increased tourism and foreign capital investment. Second, there is no US war to reinstall capitalism in Cuba. You are confused. US policy in Cuba is to ELIMINATE opposition to US capitalism elsewhere. More simply put, US support for anti-Castro policy exists only to the extent the Castros rhetoric hopes to impede capitalists expansion throughout Latin America and elsewhere. Americans get along just fine with totalitarian, socialist regimes as long as they don’t get in the way of our capitalist agenda. YOU should read about our solid relationships with Viet Nam, China, and Saudi Arabia to name a few. We don’t care to change their governments. Socialist Cuba is not the issue.

  • March 16, 2012 at 5:01 pm
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    I agree with John G. when he says “Moses needs to read a bit and discover what capitalism is and isn’t.”

    A lot of people think that socialism is a society in which material gain is spat upon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The socialist transformation is, first of all, a re-taking of the instruments of production by those who do the work. The motivation for this is material gain; that is, to gain the productive, material wealth that historically has been siphoned off by private capitalist owners.

    By equating various economic benefits for the Cuban people regarding the spruce-up for the Pope’s visit, Moses is at one with both the capitalist detractors and the ultra-Left sectarians who see Cuba as state capitalist–which it most certainly is not.

  • March 16, 2012 at 1:44 pm
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    Moses needs to read a bit and discover what capitalism is and isn’t .
    Among other things, dressing up for the Pope’s visit has nothing whatsoever to do with capitalism and more to do with resisting the U.S. war to reinstall capitalism in Cuba.

  • March 16, 2012 at 9:31 am
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    Please keep in mind that the hundreds of foreign journalists and thousands of foreign visitors arriving for the papal visit will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars during their stay in Cuba. It is also not unreasonable to assume that Cuban tourism after the pope’s visit will also increase because of press coverage. While I can appreciate your concern for the expenditures made on behalf of pope’s short stay in Cuba, I think that whatever Cuba needs to spend to improve its public image is investment well spent. Paving a street in Cocosolo, however needed, will not bring in hard currency. Painting the facades surrounding the Plaza de la Revolution will look good for the foreign photographers and reap tourism dividends for Cuba. Welcome to capitalism Isbel!

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