The CDRs and Cuban Reconciliation / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 September 2015 – In these days of the Pope when a great deal has been said about reconciliation between Cubans, meetings have been held to prepare the 28 September celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). Great effort has been put into the creation of the 55th Anniversary Youth Detachments and the Neighborhood Prize presentations.

The unity around Revolutionary ideas that gave rise to the organization is offered as the irrevocable currency for maintaining the conquests achieved and constructing the prosperous and sustainable socialism promoted by the Communist Party. continue reading

We Cubans have no need to reconcile ourselves for religious, regional, ethnic, linguistic or other reasons of any nature, other than the ideological differences introduced on the island beginning with the promotion of the class struggle backed by Marxism-Leninism.

The unity that is proclaimed from the official discourse implies the exclusion of those who have political ideas that differ from those posited by only permitted party. This unity is understood in the context of the dictatorship of the proletariat, under which there can be no possible understanding reached with the “class enemy.”

The unity that is proclaimed from the official discourse implies the exclusion of those who have political ideas that differ from those postulated by only permitted party.

This unity is alien to reconciliation, because the reconciliation to which we are exhorted from the pulpits does not imply the conversion of the disaffected into militants, but the acceptance of differences on both sides in an equality of conditions. I remember the poet Heberto Padilla pointing out, “reconciliation and capitulation don’t rhyme.”

We’ll see if this spirit of reconciliation ends with insults and beatings against those who emerge from the church to march peacefully through the streets on Sunday to demand respect for human rights and freedom for those still imprisoned for political reasons.

The rulers clad in their guayaberas who listened to the Masses and homilies are the only ones who have the capacity, or rather, the authority, to issue the order to stop the repression and to categorically prohibit the repudiation rallies. This coming anniversary of the organization that was created so that some Cubans would monitor and betray their compatriots will be an excellent occasion to demonstrate that the holy words did not fall into the void.

Raul Castro, The Altar Boy / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)
Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 September 2015 – The Cuban leader, Raul Castro, has accompanied Pope Francis at all his Masses during his tour of the island. From the one celebrated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution to the words pronounced at the Santiago de Cuba Cathedral. Like one seeking absolution for a long list of sins, the General President has traveled from the capital to the east of the country, following the papal entourage.

Castro appears to be fulfilling, in this way, the notice he gave in Rome last May. He said then, “If the Pope continues speaking like this I will go back to praying and return to the Church, I’m not joking.” The return to the faith appears to include not only him, but a part of his family that has accompanied him, along with the executive branch of the island and officials from the state press. continue reading

Despite the sudden mystical fervor, national television carefully avoided showing images of the Cuban president when the faithful were reciting the Mass, making the sign of peace, or repeating some prayer when he was present. The cameras only focused on his arrival and departure from temples and plazas.

Some television newscasters who participated in a special ‘magazine’ feature, broadcast during these three days have faced a particular plight. Several faces well-known for their staunch ideological discourse have had to moderate their vocabulary, and are salting their phrases with psalms, biblical allusions and reverence for religious figures.

The pirouettes performed by these presenters and journalists, to avoid words like “revolution,” “communist” or “comrades,” have also been worthy of the political circus they represent. All that was missing in the studio was a crucifix and a Bible, but they weren’t necessary.

The excessive incense of these days is not appreciated by many. “This goes from the sublime to the ridiculous,” a 63-year-old Communist Party militant who lives in my building told me. “From atheism to religious servility,” he added, referring to the attitude of the Cuban authorities and the broadcast of complete Masses in the national media.

Now, all we need is to hear Raul Castro’s next public speech, to see if he also has replaced the bellicose “Homeland or death!” with the more concise, “Amen!”

Dialogue… If They Allow Us / 14ymedio and Somos+, Manuel Mons

Pope Francis meeting with the youth of the Felix Varela Cultural Center and University Students Federation in Havana Sunday. (Manuel Mons / 14ymedio)

14ymedio and Somos+, Manuel Mons, Havana, 22 September 2015 — Several months ago, when the young students of Father Felix Varela Cultural Center learned about the Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, joy spread among us. Especially when we learned that the Pope’s agenda also included a private meeting with all the students. However, the joy was short lived and the concept we had at that time was completely transformed. continue reading

It became a public event where young students at the Center would have no special deference in comparison with the rest of the guests. But still the excitement of meeting in person the Bishop of Rome and hearing from him, meant that from two in the afternoon on Sunday, hundreds of us gathered near the place on the Malecon, waiting for the permission to come in.

Metal barriers blocked the way and security guards repeated to each question: “Until prior notice, no one can enter.” After a long time outside, the students of the Center got together and decided to contact the rector, Father Yosvany Carvajal. In this way it was made possible that there would ba at least a small advantage for the students of the Center and that we would be the first to go enter in order to be as close as possible to Pope Francis.

We had still long hours ahead under the heat, standing and thirsty, but they were borne with great joy. Bishops from Haiti, Mexico, Spain, United States and Cuba, went up to the podium to thank everyone for their presence, and in addition to introducing themselves, they expressed their best wishes towards the people and the Cuban youth.

An excellent concert by Martin Valverde made the hours pass quickly and also helped to cope with a last-minute rain which delayed the meeting with Pope Francis.

Finally there he was. I confess I expected a happier Pope and a longer and more intense exchange with those present, but the experience of that afternoon filled me with satisfaction. Concepts such as reconciliation, hope and dialogue with the opponent made me feel free, as I had not felt for a very long time. His main message about understanding and talking with those who think differently brought tears to my eyes. Especially because, when Pope Francis uttered that phrase, a chorus resonated out of the crowd saying: “If they allow us.”

State Security Stops Martha Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leiva From Meeting with the Pope / EFE-14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana. 20 September 2015 — Opposition member Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello reported that on Sunday afternoon State Security stopped her – for the second day in a row – from personally greeting Pope Francis. Their meeting, which was to have taken place in Havana Cathedral, had been agreed upon as a way redressing what happened on Sunday to this former Black Spring prisoner who was detained as she was on her way to the Apostolic Nunciature. continue reading

On Sunday morning, the secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Cuba had assured Ms. Roque Cabello that he was surprised by the previous day’s arrest, but that everything was now in order for her to greet the Pope that same day. However, the taxi taking her to Havana’s historic center was intercepted on its way by a car with four State Security agents who did not allow her to reach the place, the activist said.

“If you have something to say to the Pope, tell us, and we’ll tell him,” Roque Cabello said one of the State Security agents told her. The dissident was held for fifteen hours at a police station before being released.

In the case of Miriam Leiva, her detention unfolded under similar circumstances, as she was traveling in a shared taxi. “The car was forcefully intercepted by State Security. They took me to a police station, and there an official warned me that I could not participate in any activity related to the Pope’s visit,” Leiva reported to the EFE news agency.

On the way to Havana Cathedral, where Francis celebrated Sunday vespers with priests, men and women consecrated to religious life, and seminarians, the Papal entourage stopped at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Saint Ignatius Loyola on Reina Street.* The Pope took a brief tour of the interior of the church, and then continued on his way to the historic center of Havana.

*Translator’s Note: Commonly called “Iglesia de Reina,” “Church of Reina (Queen [Street]),” and consecrated in 1923, it is widely considered one of Cuba’s most beautiful churches, and its tallest, with a fifteen-story bell tower. It is the mother church of the Jesuit Order in Cuba.

El Cobre Prepares to Welcome Pope Francis / 14ymedio

Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. (Flickr)
Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 18 September 2015 – The place where Cachita* — as we fondly call our patron saint — receives her devotees has seen busy days before the arrival of Pope Francis. In the Basilica of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, located in Santiago de Cuba Province, the details for the the Bishop of Rome’s September 22 Mass are ready. At this moment, the eleven miles separating El Cobre from the provincial capital are a constant back and forth of people and vehicles.

During a press conference on September 15, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba Dionisio García Ibáñez explained that the Papal entourage will be landing at Antonio Maceo International Airport in the afternoon of September 21, and then immediately head for El Cobre. continue reading

On this occasion, repairs to the Basilica of The Virgin of Charity have been primarily focused on the façade, the interior décor, and the garden areas. The building was totally restored in 2012 for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island, as well as to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of the Patroness of Cuba.

The very popular Chapel of Miracles, previously full of offerings for the fulfillment of some promise made to the Virgin, was returned to its original function as a sacristy in 2012. The impressive gifts people have left for Cachita were moved to two side chapels that had been previously closed.

According to Catholic Church officials, after arriving in the afternoon in Santiago de Cuba, “he (Francis) will meet with Cuban bishops, and visit the sanctuary.” Once there, the Pope will offer a gift to the Virgin of Charity, and light a candle with the flame of a candle lit by Benedict XVI during his visit to the Basilica.

As did the previous pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio will spend the night at the priests’ residence hall adjacent to the chapel.

Opened on September 8, 1927, the Basilica now exhibits reconditioned woodwork with the shrine to the Virgin renovated so that the faithful can see it up closer. The surrounding buildings, such as the retreat and fellowship house and the guesthouse are in wonderful shape, although they were built over sixty years ago. However, the power, water and sewer systems have not been modernized.

Francis will offer a Mass at the El Cobre shrine attended by the residents of the small rural communities where there are no churches, according to the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. García Ibáñez also said that two children will present the Pope with a copy of the manuscript made by the veterans of the war of independence asking that the Virgin of Charity be made the Patron Saint of Cuba.**

After the conclusion of the Mass in El Cobre, the Pope will go to Santiago de Cuba’s cathedral, where representatives of families from throughout the country will be waiting for him. After blessing the city on its 500th anniversary, Francis will leave for the airport, thus ending his visit to the island.

Translator’s Notes:
*An affectionate nickname for anyone named “Caridad,” or “Charity,” including Our Lady of Charity herself.
**The petition was made to Pope Benedict XV in 1915, and it was approved the following year.

Translated by José Badué

Pope Francis Visits Fidel Castro in His Havana Home / EFE – 14ymedio

Pope Francis during his meeting with former Cuban president Fidel Castro. (Alex Castro)
Pope Francis during his meeting with former Cuban president Fidel Castro. (Alex Castro)

EFE, 14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2105 — According to an announcement made by the Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi, Pope Francis met today with former president Fidel Castro at his Havana home.

The meeting took place after the Pontiff celebrated mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. According to Lombardi, the meeting lasted approximately forty minutes, taking place in a “very family-like and informal” setting.

The Apostolic Nuncio Giorgio Lingua accompanied Francis during his visit with the Cuban leader. Fidel Castro’s wife, children, and grandchildren–approximately ten people in total–were also present. continue reading

Lombardi explained that the Argentine pontiff and Castro discussed “current global problems,” especially those related to the environment.

The Vatican spokesperson said that Fidel Castro took the opportunity to ask Francis about “important issues in today’s world” that concern and interest the former Cuban president.

Apart from their conversation, Francis and Fidel Castro exchanged gifts. Specifically, the Pontiff gave Castro two books by Alessandro Pronzato, an expert in catechism, scripture, and a renowned theologian. One of the books is entitled “Disturbing Gospels,” while the other focuses on the relationship between humor and religion.

The Pope also gave Castro copies of his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” and his famous encyclical on environmental issues “Laudato si.”

For his part, the former Cuban president presented the Pope with a copy of “Fidel and Religion,” an interview he gave to Brazilian theologian Frei Betto in 1985. The book’s dedication read: “To Pope Francis, on the occasion of his fraternal visit to Cuba. With the admiration and respect of the Cuban people.”

Fidel Castro, 89 years old, who retired from power in 2006 due to illness, also held a private meeting with Benedict XVI when he visited Cuba in 2012. On that occasion, the former president and several of his relatives travelled to the Apostolic Nunciature in order to see the Pontiff.

Translated by José Badué

 

Francis And The Flight Of Skullcap / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Francis Pope, without skullcap, greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba
Francis Pope, without skullcap, greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 September 2015 — A popular joke about the arrival of Pope John Paul II to Cuba referred to the wind blowing away his skullcap and its falling into the sea during a walk along the Malecon. Fidel Castro then walked on the water and rescued the silk cap. The next day, the newspaper Granma’s editorial declared that “El Comandante is God,” while L’Osservatore Romano asserted that the pontiff was responsible for the miracle and the Miami press concluded, “Castro can’t even swim anymore.”

On Saturday Pope Francis came to the island and a playful wind snatched his skullcap from his head as he was descending the stairs of the plane. It was just nature, the Havana breeze making itself felt. However, this unexpected little thing could symbolize his visit to Cuba, a journey where the moments outside of protocol will define the success or failure of his stay in this country. continue reading

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has a busy schedule of activities programmed, but certain “surprises” have already obliged him to diverge from the official program. After the daring breeze that greeted his arrival, the pope had to listen to a combative welcoming discourse from Raul Castro, where he made it clear that there is no need “to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other state.” In simpler language, “Mind your own business and shepherd your flock.”

Although the Cuban government has publicly praised Francis’s role as mediator during the secret talks between Washington and Havana, it also wants to make clear that the papal arbitration ends when he begins to ask for internal changes on the island. Equipped with the latest measures relaxing travel and trade with Cuba, just approved by US president Barack Obama, the Bishop of Rome could invite Raul Castro to put things in order in his own house.

In this diplomatic action, Francis should advocate for respect for freedom of the press, expression and association, an end to any vestiges of political imprisonment, and the restoration of citizenship rights to exiles. If he managed to push these changes, the Pope would score a historic mediation: one between the Cuban government and its own people.

The Cuban government wants to make clear that the papal arbitration ends when he begins to ask for internal changes in Cuba

Even the words almost whispered into the ear of the General President are within the protocol, part of the program. But the shouts of the four members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba arrested in the Plaza of the Revolution diverged from the program. Francis acted initially as pastor, putting his hand on the head of one of the regime opponents and seeming to listen for a few seconds, but then State Security dragged the dissident beyond the range of the cameras and, as of now, his whereabouts remain unknown.

Another event that has distorted the papal activities calendar is the arrest of the activist Martha Beatriz Roque on two consecutive days when she tried to honor an invitation to the Apostolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff. State Security appeared to have a parallel agenda for Francis and among its most important points is to block the Cuban opposition from any contact with him. Hence, they also did not allow the Ladies in White to reach the Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution.

On the other hand, a programmed part of his visit was the meeting with the former Cuban president. Unlike that popular joke starring Wojtyla, this time Fidel Castro did not jump vigorously over the wall of the Malecon, rather the Pope went to his house, where he was barely able to leave. The final photo of the meeting, taken by the dictator’s son himself, had certain airs of extreme unction, winds of finality. The Pope’s skullcap appeared firmly perched on his head, prepared for the political blizzard that awaits him.

Francis Travels to Cuba to Show Support for a Church Wanting to Broaden Its Reach / EFE-14ymedio, Sara Gomez Armas

Jaime Cardinal Ortega with Pope Francis I. (Archdiocese of Havana)
Jaime Cardinal Ortega with Pope Francis I. (Archdiocese of Havana)

14ymedio biggerEFE, Sara Gómez Armas, Havana, 18 September 2015 — Pope Francis is the third pontiff to visits Cuba, a country where the Catholic Church has assumed an important role as mediator with Raúl Castro’s administration, but which still faces challenges as it tries gain more space and institutional recognition on the Communist island.

Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that has been visited by three consecutive popes: John Paul II in January 1998; Benedict XVI in March 2012; and from Saturday to Tuesday, Jorge Bergoglio, the first Latin American pontiff. continue reading

During his four days in Cuba, Pope Francis will visit Havana, where he will celebrate Mass at the Plaza of the Revolution, and meet with Raúl Castro. He will visit Holguín, a province that will receive a pope for the first time, and will also visit Santiago de Cuba Province, where he will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the country’s patroness.

The Pontiff will depart Santiago for Washington, the second part of his visit to Cuba and the United States. These two countries restored ties after 54 years of hostilities with Francis’ personal mediation, thus giving a political and diplomatic dimension to this pastoral visit.

Accompanied by the catchphrase “Missionary of Mercy,” Francis is travelling to a Cuba that is very different than the one John Paul II encountered. That occasion was a historical milestone in the rapprochement between the Church and State after decades of disputes and tensions between the latter and the Castro Revolution.

Karol Wojtła’s visit – during which he was accompanied by then-bishop Jorge Bergoglio – marked a “before and after.” According to Father José Félix Pérez, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba, John Paul II’s visit “gave public visibility and renewed energy” to the Cuban Catholic Church.

Subsequently, a reformist Raúl Castro reinforced this rapprochement. In power since 2008, Castro took the significant step of committing to the release of political prisoners after his unprecedented dialogue with the country’s Catholic hierarchy in 2010. Father Pérez added: “We now have better communication. It’s more fluid. We share a very positive, cordial spirit.” This assessment is shared by the ruling Communist Party of Cuba. According to a recent interview given to EFE by Caridad Diego, Director of the Religious Affairs Office of the Communist Party, the latter’s relations with the Church are at a “good level.”

As part of this détente, the State has returned churches, buildings, and land that was property of the Catholic Church which had been expropriated by the Revolution. Furthermore, the Cuban government has for the first time since 1959 authorized the construction of two new churches, one in Havana and the other in the western province of Pinar del Río. Likewise, nuns are now being allowed to attend to the sick in hospitals, and to senior citizens in a country facing the challenge of an increasingly aging population.

Nevertheless, the Church is calling for more public spaces allowing it direct contact with the people, such as in the area of education. It is also asking for more access to the media, which on the island are owned by the State.

In the area of education, the Church has been developing since the end of the nineties ninety adult education courses. Since 2012, roughly 500 Havana entrepreneurs have benefited from the “CubaEmprende” (“EntrepreneurialCuba”) program, which aims to train the self-employed how to run their businesses.

The growth in the island’s public sector is one of the measures implemented by Raúl Castro in his reforms aimed at “updating” the island’s Socialist model. The Catholic Church supports this plan, although on occasion it has criticized the slow pace of change.

When taking into account the numbers of baptisms, it is estimated that 60% of Cuba’s population (the island has 11.1 million inhabitants) is Catholic. However, the percentage of Cubans who attend Sunday mass drops to two percent. There are 305 parishes, 357 priests, 776 consecrated religious, 585 women and 191 men, belonging to 96 communities. These numbers are still modest when compared to the presence of the Catholic Church prior to 1959. After the Revolution came to power, 131 priests were expelled from Cuba, and almost 500 “left of their own free will.”

Still, religiosity on the island is distinguished by its syncretism with religions such as Santería, which enjoys great popularity, and whose adherents find no incompatibility with it and Catholicism.

Caridad Diego used the following example. “In Cuba, it is normal for a person who was baptized into the Catholic Church to be initiated into Santería, make animal sacrifices, perform Abakuá rituals, and on top of that, be a Freemason as well.”

According to the data of the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party, there are 55 officially recognized and registered Evangelical and Protestant denominations in Cuba.

The “Blockade” Will End Only With a Change in the Internal Order / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Barack Obama during a press conference at the Seventh Summit of the Americas (Photo EFE / Carlos Ibarra)
Barack Obama during a press conference at the Seventh Summit of the Americas (Photo EFE / Carlos Ibarra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Mexico City, 19 September 2015 – The first reactions from the Cuban government to the recent relaxations of the embargo decreed by Obama concentrate mainly on protesting the underlying condition that, in order to receive the benefits, the Government will have to modify “the internal order,” a euphemism that can be translated as: tear down what remains of the socialist system in Cuba.

The expressed desire of the Cuban authorities, in this case of the spokespeople who have made pronouncements, is that the US government allow companies with “social property in Cuba” (i.e., State-owned) to participate in the spaces opened by the new policy.

The government’s argument is that “these companies are the foundation of the national economy and the highest percentage of citizens work in them.” Privileging these benefits to the non-state sector makes clear the political objective of empowering an emerging middle class, which in this way would have better conditions under which to compete with the planned state sector. continue reading

The curious thing is that, so far, the Government has not clearly told its people that the country is faced with two options: maintaining the planned socialist model proposed in the guidelines of the 6th Party Congress, where the predominance of the socialist state sector continues; or take a leap without a protective net to the market economy.

Ordinary Cubans might feel more inclined to give up the benefits offered by “a prosperous and sustainable socialism” as promised by Raul Castro.

If this dilemma were submitted right now to a referendum, the desire to preserve the so-called “internal order” would probably win. If, however, there was an open public debate where people of all opinions could participate, perhaps the results would be different.

The government’s room to resist the temptation to open up to the US proposals is expressed in a temporal dimension and depends on external factors as diverse as the results of the parliamentary elections in Venezuela or the recovery of the Chinese economy.

But before the offering of tangible empowerment through private initiative, ordinary Cubans (that vague social category) might feel more inclined to give up the benefits offered by “a prosperous and sustainable socialism” as promised by Raul Castro.

One of the main reasons to believe in this paradigm shift is that Raul Castro has not ceased to insist on the gradual character of his reforms, in which everything is done “without haste, but without pause,” making first small, limited local experiments because of the widespread fear of making mistakes.

To bet on the success of these reforms requires a high level of faith and this subjective component will only work if people can expect substantial results in a shorter time frame, especially in a population that has accumulated so many frustrations after having had to tighten their belts over and over, while waiting for the “bright future of socialism.”

Obama is now offering Cubans a faster solution, if the Cuban government gives way and if it changes the internal order that today is the principal obstacle to the flow of investments or, to put it more rudely, for (private) stores to be filled with goods and to allow American business invest in (private) bus and railway companies for public transportation, and to allow people to get up early in the morning and to search Google from their own homes for a chicken curry recipe.

This appears to be the main thing, the rest is filler, or rather the wrapper.

Dozens Of Activists Detained To Prevent Them From Attending Pope’s Mass / 14ymedio

Activists detained during the Mass of Pope Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution (frame of a video -- see below for entire video)
Activists detained during the Mass of Pope Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution (frame of a video — see below for entire video)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2015 — Opposition groups have reported dozens of arrests during the late night and morning hours of Sunday, to prevent many activists from attending Pope Francis’s Mass at the Plaza of the Revolution. The number of people arrested could exceed thirty, according to Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Among those arrested are four activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Zacchaeo Baez, Mary J. Sardinas, Boris I. Reñe and Aymara Nieto, who managed to reach the square and at least two of them approached Pope Francis and managed to talk to him about the violation of human rights in Cuba and political prisoners, a UNPACU source told this newspaper.

In images that have already begun to circulate on the Internet, we sees security services detain opponents who could have been taken to the fourth police station, located in the Cerro municipality, where they are also holding the blogger Agustin Lopez and his sister Ada Lopez. continue reading

Just outside the Ladies in White’s new headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood, in the very early hours of today, twenty Ladies in White were arrested when they left to go to the Plaza of the Revolution, including their leader Berta Soler. Also detained with there were the dissidents Angel Moya, Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles and Jose Daniel Ferrer. The latter reported via Twitter that “They took me handcuffed behind my back to the police station at Regla.”

The UNPACU leader, said, “Later, again handcuffed behind my back they released me again in front of the Bus and Truck Terminal that transports passengers to Oriente and other provinces east of the capital.” Ferrer added that in Santiago de Cuba “political police deployed special forces to suppress any solidarity action.”

At the center of the country, in the province of Villa Clara, at least 25 activisits belonging to various organizations attempted to board a vehicle to travel to Havana. The police stopped them and hours later they were taken to their homes where they remain under heavy surveillance.

For her part, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque was again invited this Sunday to meet with Pope Francis, this time at the Havana Cathedral. The invitation was communicated to her personally by the secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature who seemed stunned by the arrest that she had suffered yesterday when trying to comply with a similar invitation. Also invited to this afternoon’s meeting is the independent journalist Miriam Leiva.

 

3,522 Pardoned in order to Cover Up Cuba’s Sad Reality / 14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez

Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory
Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory

14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez, Mexico City, 18 September 2015 – The pardon of 3,522 ordinary prisoners in Cuba is excellent news, above all for their relatives. At the beginning of July something similar occurred when the Pope visited Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. In the first two countries, the governments also took the measure with respect to the incarcerated, but it was not of this breadth. In Ecuador 24 inmates benefitted from the measure; in Bolivia there were no pardons, but hundreds of the more than 5,000 prisoners in the most populous jail in the country, Palmasola, would finally be sentenced and be visited by the Pope in his tour of the country.

Ecuador has more than 16 million residents, a penal population of 21,000 prisoners and 24 penitentiaries. In Cuba, for a population of 11 million residents, there are at least 200 jails, and the penal population is estimated at 70,000 prisoners. It seems that the elevated number of pardons is due also to prison overcrowding on the Island. continue reading

The Cuban government has staged “a positive coup” in international politics, above all with respect to those countries and institutions that need gestures from Havana in order to be able to give it their support. For a curious observer, the pardon figures raise other questions in the wake of the announcement.

In Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, there are no political prisoners because public demonstrations in the street and freedom of association, movement and expression are guaranteed. That is not the case in Cuba where the dissenters suffer long jail sentences, beatings, and moral stonings on Cuban television.

The Cuban Penal Code, like that of the Soviets in the 1930’s and perhaps the North Korean one, punishes “illegal” exit from the country, contempt (resisting warrantless arrest) and the so-called “pre-criminal dangerousness,” that aberrant legal concept that is applied to crimes not yet committed. The gag law also remains in effect (Ley 88) which penalizes the mere fact of speaking against the government or publishing in the international press (as happened in the Black Spring of 2003 when 75 people were sentenced to 20 and 25 years in prison). None of these criminal laws exist in Bolivia, Paraguay or Ecuador, although censorship of the non-government press does exist.

In the Cuba that Pope Francis will visit there are today some 60 political prisoners according to the Cuban Commission on National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), and civic and political activism is prohibited. The pardon of the 3,522 prisoners will try to cover up this sad reality.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Francis Spoke Of “Reconciliation” In Response To Castro’s Combative Speech / 14ymedio

Pope Francisco greets Cubans from his popemobile on Saturday upon his arrival in Havana (Photo EFE / Rolando Pujol)
Pope Francis greets Cubans from his popemobile on Saturday upon his arrival in Havana (Photo EFE / Rolando Pujol)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 September 2015 — A strong wind at the Jose Marti International Airport blew Pope Francis’s skullcap of when he got off the plane from Rome that landed on Saturday afternoon at 3:48 in the afternoon.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio addressed President Raul Castro and asked him “to transmit feelings of special consideration and respect for his brother Fidel.” He particularly mentioned that his “greeting came especially to all those people who for various reasons I cannot meet and to all Cubans dispersed around the world.” continue reading

In his welcoming speech, Raul Castro recalled “the memorable meeting” he had with the Pope at the Vatican last May that “provided an opportunity to exchange ideas on some of the most important issues of the world.”

The Cuban president said that “the government and the Catholic Church in Cuba maintain relations in an uplifting atmosphere… We have closely followed his pronouncements, the Apostolic Exhortation ‘The Joy of Gospel,’ about social issues, and the encyclical letter ‘Praise be to you’.” added Raul Castro.

“We thank you for your support for the dialogue between the United States and Cuba,” the Cuban leader emphasized, calling the restoration of diplomatic relations “a first step in the process towards normalization of ties between the two countries.” But he insisted on the need, in relations between nations, to “fully respect the inalienable right of every State to choose its political system.”

Francis spoke of the victory of the culture of “dialogue and engagement over the system – dead forever – of dynasties and groups.”

“We are moving resolutely in updating our economic and social model to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” he said. He lost no opportunity to remind the pope that “the blockade, which causes human losses and deprivation to Cuban families,” is “cruel, immoral and illegal” and said that it “must stop.” He also spoke out against the “predatory actions of the rich countries and large multinationals.”

For his part, the Pope used his words to encourage the governments of Cuba and the United States to “continue to advance” in normalizing their relations and “developing their full potential.” He repeated the warning he has pronounced on several opportunities: “The world needs reconciliation in this atmosphere of World War III in stages in which we are living.”

Generating special sympathy among Cuban democrats was the choice of the Bishop of Rome to quote from José Martí in saying that the process of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States is a sign of the victory of the culture of “dialogue and engagement over the system – dead forever – of dynasties and groups.”

Francis said that “this apostolic visit also coincides with the centenary of the declaration of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre as the Patroness of Cuba, by Benedict XV.” He recalled that his program in Cuba will take him “to Cobre, as a son and pilgrim, to as our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved Nation, that it may pass through the paths of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.”

John Paul II was also present in the Pope’s speech, evoking “his ardent appeal” that “Cuba opens itself with all its magnificent possibilities to the world and that the world open itself to Cuba”

At the end of his speech, the papal entourage began an extensive tour of the streets of Havana heading toward the Nunciature in the Playa municipality.

Bishops Agree to Cuban Communist Party Interference in Pope’s Religious Activities / 14ymedio, Jorge Guillen Garcia

Parish of Our Lady of Candelaria in the Candelaria municipality of Artemisa (Photo CC)
Parish of Our Lady of Candelaria in the Candelaria municipality of Artemisa (Photo CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Guillen Garcia*, Candelaria, Artemis, 19 September 2015 — Once again Cuban Catholics suffer humiliation by the Government, without the bishops doing much to stop it. After months of official silence about the Pope’s visit, this week we learned – from the bishops – that they had to deliver the lists of participants in religious activities ahead of time to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

Giving those lists to the PCC is the same as giving them to State Security and the party officials have also decided to place some of their members on each bus where the faithful will travel to the sites where Francis will serve a Mass. We cannot understand why this is happening and why these people have to fill the places that should be allocated to other laity, because the capacity is limited. continue reading

However, it is even harder to understand why our bishops accept this imposition.

To attend the Mass of Benedict XVI in Havana the parishes lists had to give the lists to the government. Now, that sad story repeats itself

In Candelaria, the town where I live, at least three of the faithful who originally had planned to go to the Pope’s Mass in Havana, will not be able to go. On learning that they had opened up these spaces, I talked with the pastor so that other people could fill these places and his response was blunt. “We can’t do it because the Party already has the lists.” And he added that surely “they are going to fill those spaces with their people.” I communicated my discomfort with a situation, and that this wasn’t fair and that we should not accept it, but he only argued, “there is no choice, I can’t do anything.”

Something similar has happened with the planned meeting between Pope Francis and young students of Father Felix Varela Cultural Center in Havana. It only took a letter from the University Students Federation (FEU) addressed to the cardinal for him to arrange for the students from the cultural center to share with the FEU the place and time of the meeting. Those originally invited no longer have priority, while the official organization has undertaken a strong campaign in the universities to bring many students, because according to the words of some of their leaders, “we have to be the majority and impose ourselves.”

It is important to note that when we visited John Paul II we were the ones who prepared for the visit and it wasn’t necessary to give any list to the Party, nor to give space on our bus to their members. This visit was a success and we were able to participate in the Masses in peace. All this was possible thanks to the autonomy and independence of the Church with regards to the State, and its being an incarnated and prophetic church that is known to be at the side of its people. But when Benedict XVI came it was no longer the same. The Church had changed its prophecy with building permits and its incarnation for permits for processions.

A youth ministry meeting with the pope was canceled without explanation. Instead the pope met with Fidel Castro and his family

Under these conditions, the Government – with the consent of the bishops – manipulated this visit according to their will. So much so that a meeting of the youth ministry at the nunciature with the Pope was cancelled without any explanations. Instead, the Pope met with Fidel Castro and his family.

To attend the Mass of Benedict XVI in Havana it was necessary for the parishes to make a list of the attendees and deliver the lists to the Government, and their agents were at the doors of the buses to verify it. At the end of the call a large number of their agents who weren’t written down anywhere got on the vehicles, but no one could even ask for explanations. Now, this sad story is repeated.

Never, for any activity of the Church, such as youth meetings, marriages, ordinations of religious or bishops and even the Cardinal, did the organization share these lists with the Government. Nor did they deliver lists to control any of the internal matters, because this is the sole responsibility of the Church itself.

The Church must not cede its role and mission in exchange for favors that sooner or later require payback. For now, may the Lord of history protect us. We are like lost lambs without shepherds we can trust.

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*Editor’s note: Jorge Guillen Garcia, author of this article, is a Catholic layman of the parish of Our Lady of Candelaria in Candelaria (Artemis).

Opponents Denounce Arrests And “Social Cleansing” Before The Pope’s Visit / 14ymedio

March of the Ladies in White.
March of the Ladies in White.

14ymedio, Havana, 18 September 2015 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) expressed Friday in a statement its “deep indignation and concern about the operation of ‘social cleansing’ that the government has developed in recent days” in Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. The spokesman for the organization, Elizardo Sanchez, stressed that thousands of paupers, beggars, bums, mentally ill and other wandering homeless people, in their great majority elderly people who have no place to live, have been interned before the Pope’s visit, that begins tomorrow.

The communication argues that the objective of “social cleansing” undertaken by the secret political police is to put these people out of sight of pilgrims, foreign journalists and other visitors. The organization stresses that the internments have been executed without judicial order and without disclosing the whereabouts of the victims. The CCDHRN asks the Pope to intervene for their immediate release.

The executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, has also circulated a message to publicize the arbitrary arrests of peaceful opposition within hours of the arrival of Pope Francisc.

Thousands of beggars have been detained in Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba

Ferrer says at least two members of his organization, Alberto Valle Perez and Walter Reinosa Morales, were arrested yesterday in Havana, as well as Roberto Ferrer, a member of Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID) arrested with violence on La Palma, Arroyo Naranjo.

According to the UNPACU leader, in Santiago de Cuba and Holguin there is strong vigilance and mobilization of Interior Ministry troops, “ready to act against peaceful activists, defenders of human rights.”

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, has reported the detentions of some 17 members of the organization in Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Santa Clara and Pinar del Rio “to avoid” their attending the Masses that will be celebrated by the Pope on the island.

Among the detainees are the activist Leticia Ramos and her husband. Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de SATS opposition group, has contacted their family and has said through his Twitter account that they are “confined in a room riddled with cockroaches.”

Che’s Daughter Criticizes Communist Party’s Call To Attend The Pope’s Mass / 14ymedio

Aleida Guevara in June 2014. (Flickr)
Aleida Guevara in June 2014. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 September 2015 – Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara’s daughter and the director of the Studies Center named after her father, has criticized the call from the authorities for Cubans to attend the Masses that will take place during Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba.

“The PCC (Communist Party of Cuba) asks us, the militants, to go to the Mass, to go and receive Pope Francis; as if it’s practically the task of the Party, with which I don’t entirely agree,” Aleida Guevara told the press agency AFP.

In addition, Aleida Guevara accuses the Catholic Church of having been, “to a great extent complicit in the murders and disappearances of more than 30,000 Argentinians,” during the military dictatorship (1976-1983). However, she gives the benefit of the doubt to Francis, although she doesn’t want to dig into it so as not to be disappointed. “I don’t know where the pope was at that time. What did he really do? I don’t know.”

“I will receive the pope as a visitor, that seems right to me, because he is coming to my house and I receive him with the best I have, it is logical. But to go to a Mass, no, because here there is freedom of religion or of no religion, and for that reason I don’t think I will go,” she says.

During his visit the Pope will celebrate a number of Masses, the first one on Sunday in the Plaza of the Revolution, another in Holguin on Monday a final one on Tuesday the 22 at the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Santiago de Cuba.