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.
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.
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.