Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, April 4 — If John Paul II was a feline of politics, Benedict is the plantigrade of dogma.
This was what he showed on his recent trip to Cuba, where — looking out the window of the airplane taking him to Mexico — he declared Marxism bankrupt, communism dysfunctional and the Church ready to surprise the Cuban people with its assistance in “overcoming their traumas.”
He was supported by the Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, who in a Mass at the cathedral in Havana called Marxism an “outdated ideology,” to the emotional tears of his emigrant parishioners.
Obviously I’m not going to discuss the validity of Marxism. I think it’s a powerful mega-theory that has led to many theoretical trends and so many other ideological preferences, ranging from sclerotic “Marxism-Leninism” to sophisticated schools of thought that the prelates have never read (and probably wouldn’t understand even if they did).
In the end, everyone has the right to say that Marxism, like any other theory, is useless. Similarly, they can consider it a wise theoretical and political choice. But I’m not going to get into that discussion.
What I want to point out is that no one in Cuban officialdom or in the official academic world or among the poorly-paid-bloggers who shovel mud in all directions have tensed a single muscle in their tongues to refute the Pope.
Only the foreign minister, with his usual poker face and before an audience of very friendly journalists, spoke of the matter saying that he respected the views of the head of the Vatican. There was also the new economic czar, Marino Murillo, who repeated somewhere — without mentioning saints or miracles — what everyone knows: There will be no political reforms.
“Oh, the times! Oh, the customs!” as Cicero once said. We have seen how only a few years ago Cuban intellectuals were repressed, stigmatized and even jailed for referring critically to the official Soviet version of Marxism that prevailed in the country.
This occurred even when they did this from Marxist positions and genuinely supported the ideological apparatus of the Cuban communist Party (PCC). If anyone has any doubts of this, they can speak with Marxist historian Ariel Hidalgo [who was accused of “incitement against the social order” and sentenced to eight years in prison].
But there’s more. The current constitution of Cuba recognizes so-called “Marxism-Leninism” as the official ideology insofar as it gives the PCC the highest authority over the system. This has been reaffirmed in documents such as the program of the last party conference, which was said to have been the subject of discussion between members of that organization and others, and therefore is considered — from the official perspective — a democratic document of “broad popular acceptance.”
Notwithstanding, Pope Benedict XVI was allowed the opportunity to describe the official ideology as outdated and the system dysfunctional…while speaking on the very eve of a visit that was inseparable from his rank as a head of state.
Likewise, the archbishop of Miami did this by describing churches as “sanctuaries of reflection,” which were described as “apolitical” by Havana Cardinal Ortega, when the opposition elements of the so-called “Cuban Republican Party” tried to occupy churches here.
But nothing happened, even though technically this was an act of interference in the internal affairs of another country – and not at a distance, but during a state visit subject to certain specific protocols.
The problem is that evidently the Cuban political elite, led by the general/president, has agreed to pay the price for these accompaniments that Benedict XVI offered for overcoming national “traumas” and are already, with unusually condescending gestures, working with the Catholic hierarchy and all its ideological institutions and propaganda.
I applaud the fact that this support exists, but not in the conditions in which this is now occurring. What especially scares me is the high price Cuban authorities are willing to pay if it helps them in carrying out their pleasant bourgeois metamorphosis without major disruptions.
Firstly, because the Catholic Church worldwide is in a severe crisis from any viewpoint and their current behavior is far from those original Christian principles that captivated the imaginations of millions of people throughout history.
I think Pope Ratzinger, Archbishop Wenski and Cardinal Ortega would be doing everyone a big favor by looking inward and trying to solve the many problems within the institution they lead.
But as they have not done this before and there’s no serious self-critical assessment of the Catholic Church, I fear that the accompaniments could result in some drawbacks for us.
Secondly, I’m concerned about this alliance because the Catholic Church in Cuba is a religious minority, one which operates in half-empty churches and where many of its parishioners are merely migratory birds that appear to receive charity. In such conditions, the power that it is being attributed far exceeds its actual existence on the island
Thirdly, because no one — neither those in the Catholic Church nor those in the Communist Party — can hope to receive posttraumatic treatment from Cuban society under monopoly conditions, this must be done by taking advantage of the available gaps to gain sectarian space.
At the same time this must be done while other groups and individuals (with full rights) wish to do so but are systematically excluded and suppressed.
Again, I applaud the fact that the Catholic Church is participating in this process of transition that Cuban society is suffering (or enjoying, depending on who you talk to). It’s fair it is doing so, since it’s a church that has thousands of honest followers with full rights to be represented.
Myself in particular, I think that all Catholics who work every day for a better world in strict correspondence with the Christian message of solidarity and humility could make an invaluable contribution to the future of Cuban society.
I also believe that Cuban society would gain if it succeeded in appropriating much of the humanist tradition of Catholicism, which has historically been represented in figures such as Las Casas, Miguel Hidalgo, Felix Varela, Camilo Torres and Herdel House.
We could also benefit from the memory of the hundreds of European priests murdered by fascism, despite the concubinage of the Holy See with the Third Reich.
I even think it would help if the repressive and decadent Cuban political elite paid attention to the final words of the Pope in his farewell: encouraging Cuba to be the home of all Cubans, and that it respect freedom and do away with entrenched positions “that tend to make understanding more difficult and collaborative efforts ineffective.”
But at the same time, I think that Pope Benedict XVI and all his subordinates must be able to solve the immense dens of injustice that thrive under the doctrine they support. They must eliminate the entrenched positions that characterize the Roman curia and come to understand that freedom can’t be designed only for a select few.
For example, only as a tragic means of illustration, I remember that during the days when the Pope made his journey to Cuba a young man named Daniel Zamudio was killed in Chile. Four monsters beat, tortured and dumped his body in a deserted park. He was in such bad shape that, according to doctors, his organs weren’t even suitable for donation.
Daniel was a gay 24-year-old, an excellent youth who was pursuing his life and was respected by others. But according to church leadership of Benedict XVI, Daniel was the type of sheep that had gone astray and therefore he deserved discrimination. He had no right to his sexual orientation and much less the right to marry.
I’m not saying that the Pope or the church directly instigated the crime or that Zamudio’s blood is on their hands. But I am saying that the medieval intransigence of the Vatican about issues like this are part of the scenario that promotes crimes such as the one that led young Zamudio to his grave and impoverishes the lives of many millions of people around the globe.
I want a Cuba without discrimination or exclusionary vetoes; one without monopolies of posttraumatic accompaniments, because the country belongs to everyone and should be for the good of all.
I simply want a Cuba that can be visited by this or any other pope, but without these producing hundreds of pre-trial detentions, without people being forced to meet him (believers and nonbelievers), and without there having to be a sturdy Red Cross stretcher on hand owing to the right to beat defenseless people who differ.
God forbid any of that.
(*) Published originally in Cubaencuentro.com