Ethics, Politics and Religion in Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cardinal Ortega. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — The lynching of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega is already underway, and all of the media cannons of Miami’s anti-Castro community are aimed at him, as are those of dissidents and the occasional US diplomat based in Cuba.

They are looking for any pretext to attack him, but the hatred towards the prelate is nothing new. He is accused of two cardinal sins: working for the release of all political prisoners in 2010 and encouraging the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.

The first action was in response to a petition made by Cuba’s Ladies in White, women whose husbands were in prison. The cardinal acted as intermediary with the Cuban government and, with the support of Spain, they reached an agreement for the release of all prisoners of conscience.

About 90% of the prisoners released left Cuba and headed for Spain with hundreds of relatives. Some would later allege that Cardinal Jaime Ortega had forced them to, offering them exile as the only way to obtain their release.

Time proved this was false. Twelve of those released decided to stay in Cuba and made it clear they were offered the possibility of remaining in the country after the release, such that the relocation to Spain by the remaining 115 and their 600 relatives was voluntary.

Now, they want to lynch him again because he said on the radio that there are no political prisoners on the island. Later, he told Cartas desde Cuba that, of the hundreds of amnesty petitions received in connection with the Pope’s visit, none having to do with prisoners of conscience had arrived.

The cardinal asked that, if political prisoners exist, that he be informed of their names. And the opposition found no better moment to hand him this “list” than during a diplomatic reception of the United States. Jaime fell into an ambush this way.

Some of the Ladies in White took part in the ambush of the cardinal. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

I walked by him and saw him surrounded by dissidents. I realized that they sought to draw everyone’s attention to the confrontation and continued on my way. A US diplomat, however, stopped me and, smilingly, insisted I went to see how they had cornered the cardinal.

A dissident journalist, Miriam Leiva, was also nearby and described the incident this way: “Seeing him caught off guard and trying to offer convincing answers to two men and two women dressed in white who addressed him in a severe tone made an impression one me.” (1)

In her note, she recalls how the Catholic Church opened its doors to the relatives of political prisoners when her husband was in jail. Even today, the cardinal receives the Ladies in White (including two of the ones who took part in the show against him) every Sunday at the Santa Rita church.

The following day, the well-oiled machine of US Judge Lynch was set in motion. They published a note saying that Jaime Ortega “looked like a political commissar from Stalinist times” and insisted he told dissidents that their information “came from the scum in Miami” (2).

In an official communiqué, the Archbishopric of Havana refutes this version of events. “The expressions ‘scum press’ and ‘counterrevolutionary press’ were not used by the Archbishop of Havana, nor are they part of his vocabulary” (3).

It all smells like a smear campaign against the cardinal, whom they wish to eliminate from the high spheres of the Cuban church. Dissidents and anti-Castro activists are looking for a more politicized clergy that will allow them to convert the Catholic “flock” into the social base they lack.

Those who left for Spain first accused the cardinal and then launched attacks on the Spanish government.  Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Years ago, dissident leader Oswaldo Paya was already accusing Ortega and his closest collaborators of behaving like the “other party,” adding that “the image we’re giving people is that of a church that wants to replace the opposition” (4).

The campaign has claimed some victims among the cardinal’s collaborators. Roberto Veiga and Leinier Gonzalez, editors of the magazine Espacio Laical, had to resign. Efforts to “overthrow” the cardinal, however, have all failed till now.

Even though Jaime Ortega is already of retirement age, the Pope keeps him in his post. The Vatican does not seem very willing to endanger the spaces and social leadership achieved by Cuba’s small church over the past 15 years.

The cardinal’s resume includes the re-establishment of relations between Church and State, the visit of three Popes to Cuba, the opening of new spaces for evangelization, the entry of hundreds of foreign priests and nuns into Cuba, the release of all prisoners of conscience and 3,000 common inmates and acting as an intermediary in Cuba-US talks.

This is an impressive record that ought to inspire respect, beyond the political or philosophical differences that separate us. What happened at the reception only puts into question the ethic of those who staged the spectacle and those who allowed it.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.


22 thoughts on “Ethics, Politics and Religion in Cuba

  • Kennedy, Batista is dead and he didn’t live or die in the United States.

  • The Cardinal has seen his people emerge from the depths of illiteracy to be the most literate people in the world. Isn’t that a great achievement? The Cardinal can compare the Batista era with the Castro era and see the difference. Being a man of God, he therefore has to identify with those who have brought real meaningful change to the lives of God’s children who are now living like the human beings they were created to be. Under the Batista regime, there were a few who were living well, while the vast majority were catching HELL!.

  • Cardinal Ortega is correct because he is following the teachings of Jesus who visited Planet Earth and mixed with the poor and the down trodden. Hear what the Master said Moses, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my children, you have done it unto me.” The Americans cannot be trusted and, despite the fact that both countries have broken their icy relationship, the Cubans still have to look out for the treachery of the Americans, because their word is never their bond. They will attempt to impose their will on the Cuban people in an attempt to destroy the Revolution. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

  • America supports the worst dictators in the world. Are the Castro’s worst than Batista who now lives in America? America turned a blind eye to all the atrocities Batista committed against the Cuban people.Those who oppress the working class so that the American multinationals could reap huge profits are America’s most valued friends. And America has the gall to criticize other countries about human rights abuses? When America has apologized to the native Indians about the way they treated them, America can speak about human rights. When America has repented to the Black man for all the lynchings which took place in the Southern States, America can speak about human rights. Until such time, America needs to clean up its sordid past and remain silent.

  • Cardinal Ortega’s shocking declaration that there are no political prisoners in Cuba is evidence enough of his far too close relationship with the Castro regime. Yes, he has some achievements, but these are only the ones the Castros wanted. As a pastor of the people, Ortega should stand in opposition to the dictatorship, not as their ally and colleague.

  • The Catholic Chirch has been here for 2,000 years. The current Cuban political system has been here for a fraction of that time. Who do you think wil still be here in a hundred years time? The Catholic Church always plays the long game. It will always try and speak to the ones in power. Whatever criticism one may have of the church, its individual priests (that includes the cardinals), the way that Cardinal Ortega has operated and succeeded is nothing more than outstanding. Let him retire in peace and look forward to a time when it will no longer have to be up to a religious grouping to open up political space to those in disagreement with the powers there are.

  • On the contrary, Cubans are mildly supportive of this Cardinal’s track record. Most Cubans, given Ortega’s access, however wish he would have done more. The prevailing criticism is that he has not done enough.

  • I didn’t say majority opinion is always correct. You have to take all the criteria mentioned together and even then you may be wrong due to unknown facts. But as it happens the Greeks were correct to reject the EU deal.

  • It is cheap to impugn a persons motivation without evidence. If he was motivated by political expediency or self-survival then he could sit back and just hand out communion and take confessions. The scientific rationale I have already explained – given the criteria of positive results his approach has been successful and correct. What makes you think that you reflect popular opinion? Please supply some evidence. In the post Circles clearly states that the Cuban people are happy at the accords between the US and Cuba and more optimistic about the future. By implication they must welcome Cardinal Ortega’s intervention which helped bring it about. And regarding the freeing of dissidents, I’m sure most Cubans welcome that also. Are you saying they don’t?

  • The majority opinion in Greece was to reject the E53 billion bail-out offered by the creditors (ie: those who lent Greece the other E270 billion). Now the Greek Government is seeking to borrow even more.
    What price majority opinion being correct?

  • Neither scientific rationale nor majority opinion support this cardinal. If you had mentioned political expediency or self-survival as justification, while I would disagree with strategy, I would understand his motivation. But science? Populist appeal? Not a chance.

  • Whether someone/something is correct is scientific rationale combined with evolving ethics, culture and majority opinion.

  • Naive? Fernando knows better he just learn from that cuban phrase. Juega con la cadena pero no con el mono.

  • To me it’s the same question. But as you wish, answer my original question. Who says?….

  • Not a stupid response at all. Why are you are changing the question. The question was “Who says Cardinal Ortega is correct? On what authority is his cozy relationship with the dictatorship justified” and the answer is because he has achieved several positive results. Whereas you and your approach has achieved nothing.

  • It’s not a question of whether or not he has achieved more than me. Stupid response. The question remains, who says that Cardinal Ortega is “A man who will stand for the right”?

  • He has achieved several positive results. You haven’t.

  • Cardinal Jaime Ortega has achieved much during the past decade. A good man and Cuba, vs. the USA has made Good Friday an official holiday. That’s progress!

  • Kennedy. ….who is correct, who is speaking the truth.

  • Please answer one simple question as succinctly as possible: WHO says Cardinal Ortega is correct? On what authority is his cozy relationship with the dictatorship justified? Yours?

  • Fernando is being naive. It is well known among laity and non-Catholics alike that Cardinal Ortega has come up short in defending religious freedom and in adding an independent voice to the government-controlled debates surrounding Cuba’s future. He is far too chummy with the same dictatorship that once exiled and imprisoned many of his brethren priests. Ortega himself was imprisoned by Fidel and should know full well the devil he seems to hold in close confidence.

  • The Cardinal has demonstrated that he is a man who cannot be bought or sold, A man whose conscience to duty is like the needle to the pole, A man who is not afraid to call sin by its right name, A man who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. Those who oppose the Cardinal do not possess those qualities, those assets, those principals. I remember when I was a Police Office and Secretary of the Police Welfare Association, my other posts dictated that I report to the Superintendent evry morning. He would jump the fence of my duties and ask me what are the men saying about him. I would reply by telling him that I am neither the BBC nor the Voice of America, to which he replied, Corporal Clarke, I am the person who gives promotion. To that I would tell him, Sir, I prefer to remain a Corporal all the days of my life, walk with my head up in the air than to be promoted and cannot fae the men who have placed their confidence in me. Respect does not come easily. It has to be earned. Shakespeare the great English writer once said and I quote, “He who steals my purse, steals trash; but he who robs me of my good name , robs me of all that I hold dear to me and makes me poor indeed.” End of quote. When someone has robbed you of your pride, your reputation, the principles for which you stand, they render you bare and naked, devoid of your humanity, your human spirit. They turn you into a Zombie- a nothing. There is a Motto in one of our High Schools which I could not attend when I was a little boy; I had to be content with a Primary School education. The Motto Reads “PRINCIPIA NON HOMINES (Latin) In English, “Principles not men!” We must always live and we must always beguided by principles. Those of us who are not guidedmby our principled are like unto a ship without a rudder. The tide of convenience takses us hither, thither and yon, devoid of direction, devoid of purpose, devoid of cause.

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