Drooling Over the Pope in Cuba

Yasmin S. Portales Machado

HAVANA TIMES, March 25 — It’s no secret that many people’s mouths around the world are watering over the visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Cuba. But not all this is the result of delighted anticipation. And frankly, some of it is poisonous and violent slobber, though few mouth’s will cease to water.

These days slobber-meter is off the chart in both Cuba and in those areas where the immigrant community is concentrated. This is because Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger will be arriving here on Monday. What excitement?

Only 5 percent of Cuba’s population is Catholic, and “almost” half of this small group (2.5 percent of the country) identifies themselves with the church’s teachings on marriage, abortion and birth control. Nonetheless, soon we will have seen two papal visits in less than fifteen years.

We do indeed live in a unique nation.

Since we here in Cuba are very collectivist, the government is undoubtedly embracing the joy of those 550,000 people of the Catholic faith by making it the task of the entire nation to receive the Pilgrim of Charity with all due pomp and pageantry. Why?

The island is being wallpapered with full-color posters of the pontiff at the same time we’re seeing the cost of books go up and cultural institutions close.

The streets and the facades of buildings are being repaired along the Holy Father’s routes through Havana and Santiago while buildings are crumbling in Centro Havana, Cerro and Vedado (and that’s only what’s being reported here in the capital on “Radio Bemba” [the grapevine], I don’t know how things are out in the provinces).

A three-day holiday was declared while the state makes desperate calls on people to increase efficiency and productivity.

And of course they’ve permitted — ordered? — Cuban television to report on the “excellent” relations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, a relationship that has never been tarnished because the Church devotes itself exclusively to social work and doesn’t get involved in politics…

Right, because the Catholic Church of “Operation Peter Pan” was a different church.

And the Catholic Church that excommunicated Fidel Castro was a different church.

And what about the chapels attended by people who the state denied access to college, or were expelled from them, or where the authorities allowed them graduate in an atmosphere of surveillance and persecution and then denied them the opportunity to practice their professions?

Those who were charged with “ideological deviation” and couldn’t be “trusted” must have belonged to some other Catholic Church.

And the Catholic Church that allowed Yoani Sanchez the use of its facilities to promote her contemptible blogs? That too was a different church.

That must have been the Catholic Apostolic Church or the Roman Catholic Church, but it was definitely a different church.

The one we’re now welcoming is not the anti-communist church that allied with Franco and slapped the Nicaraguan cleric Ernesto Cardenal.

This is a humanist church, one that opposes abortion, contraception and the rights of non-heterosexual people in the name of the Divine Plan.

The church being represented by Benedict is a marvelous institution with regard to progress and rights.

And since the people of Cuba are very progressive, people’s mouths are watering on this progressive occasion – though this doesn’t mean all dribble is equal.

There are those whose mouths are watering with delight as they anticipate the profits this visit will mean from air fares, room rentals and retail spending.

Likewise, there are those drooling over political calculations, since welcoming the Pope means support from the Vatican City, whose political weight is inversely proportional to its surface area.

But there are also those who are foaming at the mouth in rage, because Benedict doesn’t want to talk to right-wing dissidents or publically say that communism must be overthrown.

They will have to be satisfied with his unkind statement when leaving Italy: “It’s now clear that the Marxist ideology, as it was conceived, no longer corresponds to reality. Because it doesn’t have the answers to build a new society. New models must be found.” (See http://bubusopia.blogspot.com/2012/03/da-la-benedicta-impresion.html, in Spanish)

There is the dribble of distrust by Protestant groups that lament, “Why is it that Catholics can get involved in the game of politics but not us?”

There’s the bitter gall of humiliation for Cuba’s African-based religious groups who are once again being excluded from the papal agenda (they are on the verge of being declared schismatic) and blacked out of the “pluralistic” representation in the media concerning the practice of religion on the island.

There are people who bite their lips in fear and wet them in search of peace with every shocking news item they read.

How strong are the obstacles being erected against the current struggle now that there’s a honeymoon between the top-down party and the patriarchal clergy? How much of the Pontiff’s discourse will be devoted to a single “correct” family structure if he cannot slam the state?

It’s all slobber…drool in different colors, tastes and reasons. Dribble is running down the newly poured pavement and along the freshly painted avenues of Havana and Santiago; it will grease the skids of the “popemobile,” designed to protect the Supreme Pontiff from jihadist bullets and the foul smells produced by the tropical sun.

And it that isn’t enough, the entire membership of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) has been summoned to welcome him. Their surfacing spittle will serve to fill any crevices left in the roadways (understandable defects given by the record speed in which those repairs were made and house facades painted).

Slobber is running across Havana, and specifically here. With this being the capital of all of Cuba, this city has much responsibility for the direction and character of how this visit is presented and justified – here I’m referring to all the expenses and this blatant rewriting of history and international relations.

It’s one thing to say that we are experiencing the best relations with the Vatican since 1959, but let’s get the story straight; it’s something completely different to state that we never stopped being friends or that Cuba never prevented anyone from exercising their faith. Why then was it necessary (in 1992) to clarify the right to religion by members of the PCC?

It’s one thing to say we can enter into dialogue — and I believe that it is essential to try, so that we might gain better understandings of our points of view — but it’s quite another thing to make the Catholic Church the sole political interlocutor with the state. Thus again cutting off the possibility of pluralistic social dialogue for the benefit of a specific interest group – one representing a mere 2.5 percent of the population.

It’s one thing is to recognize the important role of Catholicism in the spiritual formation of the nation and its presence as a personal belief held by heroes and heroines of our nation, but it’s something else to deny the institution’s racist, unscientific, undemocratic, anti-libertarian, misogynist and anti-communist history, as well as its complicity with fascism and other dictatorships that this institution supported.

The Catholic Church has not apologized for some of those positions; it’s only brushed them discreetly to one side. Others it still defends, alleging that it cannot break with its divine commandments. This is what I would call a lack of consistency.

I’m still not happy with this visit one bit.

It’s true that in Cuba we are a hospitable people, but the government shouldn’t take resources from its own people to entertain someone else. The government can’t function like a casa particular (where people rent rooms in their house, forcing some family members to double-up for the paying guest).

It’s true that the Vatican’s support is necessary for our diplomatic efforts, which are constantly under siege. However, the prestige of Cuba as a secular state committed to the rights of all its citizens is once again being put into question.

It’s true that Benedict is presented as a messenger of Christ, but his love, his preaching and his blessings fail to recognize or address all families, all ideologies or all people who live here. He doesn’t even pretend to.

Where is the transvestite in his homilies who inspected my house against mosquitos yesterday? Where is the family of my friends: the male doctor and mechanic with their son?

Where in his words are the people who champion Marxism? Where are those who live in this house where no more children will be born?

Where are those who support Abakua? Where are the circles of Afro-Cuban spiritualism that worship all across this island?

Where are the battered women who one day said enough and raised their hands? Where are those teenagers who muster the courage to buy condoms at the pharmacy? Where is the “Carrito por la Vida” HIV/AIDS prevention program?

And where am I?


10 thoughts on “Drooling Over the Pope in Cuba

  • April 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I would usually be exasperated by an article so critical of the Catholic church but these debates have come to fascinate me. The one person defending Catholicism on this thread “Moses” has responded with hate and anti-socialist, even racist sentiment. So despite being a life long atheist I feel I have to come to the defence of Catholicism myself as that one representative rather confirmed all the fears I imagine of the article’s author.

    I encourage the left to engage with Catholicism. Like all movements it can be reformed, despite the hierarchy. But it has to be reformed from within. Catholics themselves have to stand up to the Vatican and demand a change in attitude and to do that Catholics need to feel they can. They shouldn’t be made to feel they have to choose between their faith and left wing politics. By all accounts the church hierarchy put them under enough pressure to share their backward policies. We shouldn’t hold them to the same standards. When we let Catholics free on their conscience they have created some of the most progressive systems of their time. Despite the Vatican. And despite the lefter than thou atheists.

    I support Papal visits. If there was only 1 Catholic in my country I’d want my govt to facilitate a Papal visit. however I didn’t think Catholicism is as low as 5% in Cuba and some figures put it much higher.

    It is of course a good discussion regarding the relationship between the Cuban govt and Vatican. I think there are reasons internal and external to negotiate a good relationship with the Vatican that go beyond religion, beyond respecting the spiritual needs of the community. Latin American relations, International Relations and very importantly encouraging the Vatican to strengthen bonds to Marxist and Liberation Theology thinking come to mind as politically sound reasons to welcome such visits.

    I appreciate that such involvement sits heavy on the conscience of all of us who think of the Church as a dangerous thorn in the side of pretty much all emancipatory movements of the 20th century and the author comes across as a decent and dedicated campaigner.

  • April 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    If the Pope is a Reactionary, what is he reacting to? The ethics (for example) that he preaches is hundreds and hundreds of years old, at the least.

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