Quo Vadis* Francis? / Mario Lleonart

Those of us who lived through the repressive crackdown that took place in Cuba in 2012 during the visit of Benedict XVI have never received a response from the Vatican, although it was informed of the facts. Jose Conrado—the priest who is a maverick within the Catholic Church in Cuba, like a modern-day Father Bartolome de las Casas**—met with many of us on March 29, 2012, in the home of Ismael de Diego, to share experiences of what happened during the papal visit to Cuba, the police crackdown called “Operation Vow of Silence.” The priest expressed regret and personally delivered letters and videos to the Apostolic Nunciature. But they didn’t even give him the courtesy of a response. As a result of this crackdown some activists were detained for more than two years without even the formality of a trial.

When those repressed in Cuba met months later, on February 11, 2013, the date of Joseph Ratzinger’s resignation, something which hadn’t happened for almost six hundred years, we speculated that among all the reasons why the Pope took this momentous decision, even if the smallest of all, was his silence about what had happened to us.

Before the announcement of the new Pope’s visit this time, many of us thought the story would be different. As an indication of this, on July 16, 2015, Cuban Civil Society Open Space sent a letter by way of the Apostolic Nunciature to Pope Francis suggesting that he “receive a representation of Cuban civil society, as had happened during your recent apostolic trip to Latin America, in a private audience during the busy schedule of your anticipated next visit to Cuba. This symbolic gesture could mean the inclusion of all Cubans, especially those of us pushed to the margins of society and treated as second-class citizens because of our way of thinking or for proposing peaceful, non-violent alternatives.” This letter was delivered in person that same afternoon by Father Jose Conrado, accompanied by the prominent Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdes, and me, and was received by the Secretary of the Nuncio.

Regrettably, our letter did not receive a positive response and the Pope did not hold private meetings, except with Fidel Castro, the victimizer, to whom he extended a harmful and very undeserved legitimacy. To make matters worse, and contrary to that spirit, what actually happened was that across the length and breadth of the island at least 250 peaceful activists were arrested. The four activists who managed to break through police cordons to try to reach the Pope to respectfully express their feelings and deliver a letter were seen live by the entire world, and to date they remain in a maximum security prison. In addition to this there were hundreds of illegal house arrests and communication blockages similar to those enforced during the 2012 “Vow of Silence” operation when Benedict XVI visited.

Weeks in advance the regime began preparing this crackdown, using international media to defame and circulate false information in order to create confusion. An interview with agent Raul Capote by Russian media was disseminated worldwide. Agents employed by the regime did the same on social networks with apocryphal stories on Twitter trying to instigate religious hatred and bias the Catholic clergy against Cuban civil society, warning of phony “sabotages” against the papal visit.

In his homily the Pope expressed messages of mercy and peace worthy of being taken seriously by Cuban society and by those who misrule. But the latter did not give any sign of receiving the message, and even exploited his visit, as they had that of Benedict XVI, to carry out, as usual, something quite the opposite. While representatives of the regime sported  guayaberas and hypocritical smiles, their henchmen returned to execute behind the scenes, as in 2012, a genuine witch hunt.

Still the Vatican and Pope Francis could help greatly by issuing some statement acknowledging the above facts, which we never got from the pontificate of Benedict XVI. But maybe Francis agrees with the former president of the National Assembly of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, who when interviewed by Jackie Nespral of NBC said dismissively that “the Pope is a busy man and cannot waste time with people and issues that are not important.”

*Latin for “Where are you going?” The reference is to an apochryphal encounter by the Apostle Peter, fleeing persecution in Rome, with the risen Jesus. When Peter asks Jesus this question, Jesus answers “To Rome to be crucified again.” In response, Peter returns to Rome, and his own subsequent martyrdom.

**16th-century Spanisn cleric who championed Native-American rights.

Translated by Tomás A.

Spanish post
25 September 2015

Czech Prime Minister Receives Cuban Regime Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morua / 14ymedio

From left to right, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Ondrej Ojurik and Manuel Cuesta Morua.(14ymedio)

From left to right, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Ondrej Ojurik and Manuel Cuesta Morua.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September — Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka met Wednesday with Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua–leader of the Progressive Arc and promoter of several citizen projects–during the last day of the 19th version of Forum 2000 in Prague. In the conversation, the head of state was interested in the political and economic events in Cuba and especially the situation with regards to human rights.

Sobotka, who delivered a speech during the last day of the forum on the promotion of democracy and education for development, welcomed the first signs of opening from the current regime on the island. The prime minister said that the Czech government was going to continue its long tradition of supporting the political liberalization and acceptance of human rights in Cuba. Continue reading

A new case of fraud shakes Cuban universities / Mario Lleonart

A new case of academic fraud this Thursday has shaken the universities. A group of first year medical students in Villa Clara province were able to see in advance the answers to the morpho-physiology exam, which was sat Thursday July 2nd. According to various witnesses, the sale and circulation of the test was so widespread that it occurred in other venues, such as Sagua la Grande.

The immediate solution they are going to arrange is to get all the first year students to repeat the exam next Monday July 13th. At this stage it is not known whether any penalties will be applied to those who committed the fraud, nor whether they have made public the source of the leak. The only details which are known have come from those who have to retake the exam, with some students  complaining they are paying for the guilty ones.

This type of scandal in the academic world has occurred frequently in all educational levels. In July last year this daily paper reported the leak of various final tests in Medical Faculty Number 1 in Santiago de Cuba. On that occasion 23 students were directly involved in the leak and distribution of the contents of the second year anatomy and statistics exams, 4th year English, and the so-called State Test. On that occasion, the Teachers’ Board at the centre called for a sanction of two years’ suspension from higher education for the students involved in the act.

Translated by GH
9 July 2015

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

The Cuban Evangelical Churches Face Future Democratic Elections / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 30 June 2105 — A paper I presented on Monday, June 29, at the event “Paths of Transition”, in Havana (a theoretical conference concerning on issues of democratic construction in Cuba).

In the present order of things, the Cuban State boasts about how some of its deputies in the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular) are evangelical pastors, or have some other leadership position in the Protestant religious environment, which is an evident attempt at necessary auto-reaffirmation of that constitutional change which took place in 1992 of declaring a hitherto religiously atheistic State to secularity was more than a simple change of letter.

These exceptional cases of Protestant leaders that the Government boasts about, as in the case of other minorities, such as women, with regard to sex, or blacks, with regard to race, have helped soften the image which from all appearances is monolithic clearly from the ideological point of view that characterizes this body from its first organization. It is a sort of, “You tell me what you boast about and I’ll tell you what you lack.” Continue reading

A New Case of Fraud Jolts Cuban Universities / 14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart

Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)

Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart, Villa Clara, 9 July 2015 — A new case of academic fraud jolted university campuses this Thursday. A group of first year students in Medical Sciences in the province of Villa Clara had prior access to the answers for the Morphophysiology III exam, given on Thursday, 2 July. According to several witnesses, the sale and circulation of the test was extensive and affected sites in other cities such as that in Sagua la Grande.

The immediate solution will be to retest all first year students on Monday, 13 July. So far it is not known if sanctions will be applied to those who committed the fraud, nor if the source of the link is known. The only details come from those who must retake the test, a measure some students consulted lamented as “paying for the sins of others.”

Scandals of this kind in Cuban academia have become common at all levels of education. Last June, this newspaper reported on the leak of several final exams in the No. 1 Medical School in Santiago de Cuba. On that occasion, 23 students were directly involved in leaking and distributing the content of the second year Anatomy and Statistics exams, fourth year English and the well known State Test. On that occasion the school’s director asked for a two-year suspension from higher education for the students involved in the incident.

The Violations of Religious Freedom in Cuba Continue / Mario LLeonart

Mario Lleonart, 22 June 2015 — Cuban Christians are grateful to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for the constant monitoring of violations of religious freedom in our country. I’d like to thank the Washington Post for giving this message a voice as other organizations like the Anajure in Brazil have done. I’d like to especially thank you for mentioning the theft of the lot belonging to our Baptist church in Yaguajay where our baptist college was held from in those times when we were also able to contribute to education.

Translated by: J. García

Profile of a Father / Mario Lleonart

Right about now, on this Father’s Day, Raúl Borges Álvarez is surely living something similar to what he has been suffering for 17 years, petitioning the prison where one of his two sons is held which will not even concede the possibility of letting him out on parole, to which he is entitled by law — all because of blasted politics!

At Havana’s Santa Rita Church — as at various other churches across the country — mothers, sisters, daughters and friends of many other political prisoners penalized for political differences attempt to gather each Sunday to attend Mass and later march, each holding a gladiolus. According to the latest statistics from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), there are around 71 prisoners on the known list. The women who march for them are known as the Ladies in White. Continue reading

Why The Beatings? / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 5 June 2015 — Beatings of peaceful demonstrators in Havana have been in the news for eight consecutive Sundays. In one of the first rounds, the son of the labor leader Jesús Menéndez was dragged for several yards along the ground with no concern for his advanced age.

On the seventh Sunday, between beatings and more beatings, it was obvious that another attempt was made to kill Raúl Borges Alvarez, this time with a sure blow to the chest–no matter (or, actually, because of) his having undergone heart surgery. Continue reading

The Cardinal’s Bad Memory / 14ymedio, Mario Felix LLeonart

Cardinal Jaime Ortega at a conference at Harvard University in 2012 (Fotograma)

Cardinal Jaime Ortega at a conference at Harvard University in 2012 (Fotograma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 12 June 2015 – As was expected, Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s flat denial of the fact that there are still political prisoners in Cuba has leaked from the interview granted to Spain’s Ser Chain program Hour 25. It borders on the enigmatic how someone in the position of this man is open to asserting something that no one believes at all and that has done nothing for either the church that he represents or he himself. It is obvious that such a nonsensical statement shatters all of the church’s social doctrine that he is called upon to support and practice. Continue reading

Four Years Without Justice / Mario Lleonart

Juan Wilfredo Soto García, “The Student,” October 13, 2010

May 5th was the fourth anniversary of the brutal beating of activist Juan Wilfredo Soto García, which resulted in his death two days later. It was followed bythe deaths of noted leaders Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, in which many also acknowledge the presence of the criminal hand. The effectiveness of extrajudicial execution, verified in the case of Juan Wilfredo Soto and amply proven by other governments, is also beyond doubt in Cuba.

The regime that began with firing squads no longer needs them. The moratorium on the death penalty since 2003 is possible because those in power have perfected their method of eliminating political opponents, paying for it at the lowest possible price. North Korea, which “judicially” exterminates without ceremony, as demonstrated again a few days ago, should take lessons from its more sophisticated Cuban allies, the best students of Machiavelli. Continue reading

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, from Cuba / Mario Lleonart

Photo of the author

Although today [15 January] is a holiday only in the USA, I also in my own way celebrate it in Cuba. Why not join in the celebration of the birth of the Baptist pastor and fighter for civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr.? His life is inspirational for many of us, including me, who every day seek freedom and equality for human beings, all creatures of God.

 His existence is one of my answers to those who in Cuba who question why I combine theology with social activism. I have not invented anything new. It is the most natural thing to combine ideas and actions, and this was what happened in the life of the Reverend King. His sermons, his philosophy, his methodology, his strategy of nonviolent struggle, his life and his martyrdom are an example to follow in any dark corner of the world, and also in the illuminated places, to prevent anyone ever to darken them.

The last time that I mentioned his name to those who are responsible for repressing me in Cuba was on October 26, when I arrived from Poland, two agents from State security awaited me at the airport for questioning about my statements in the land of Lech Walesa and my subsequent activities and position in Cuba.

According to them my pastoral ministry should be confined to the four walls of a church to which they would gladly cloister me. My answer was that in addition to the unsurpassed example of Jesus Christ, I admired and tried to imitate, except for the distances, transcendental beings such as the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszco and the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

To which one of them, with the obvious threat that the same thing could happen to me, he riposted: What a coincidence, that all of them are martyrs!

Hopefully just like in August 1963, when he achieved that historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Cuba soon we will be able to realize something similar of our own in Havana, which, as the successful artist Tania Bruguera demonstrated in the recent events on December 30, so far remains forbidden to the people.

In the midst of our Cuban reality of continual violations civil rights, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of our luminaries.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

Spanish post
19 January 2015

The ‘Cabanuelas’ for Religious Freedom / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

:  Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

: Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, 16 January 2015 – Cuban peasants have a tradition that they carry out at the beginning of year. They observe the first twelve days of January and complete the observation – in a countdown – with the following twelve days until they get to the 24th day. They have the idea that what happened in the natural environment on those dates can yield some insight on how the year will be.

If it rains on the third day, that means for the men of the field that the same thing will occur in the third month. This way they get an idea of whether the year will be rainy or dry, if there will be hurricanes, much heat or if it will feel cold in the limited winter. The farming traditions call these days that the farmers think of as a preamble to the months of the year cabanuelas.

For those of us who form part of the religious sphere in Cuba, the last year ended with new perspectives on the relations with our counterparts in the United States. After the announcement by President Barack Obama last December 17, there have been more than a few citizens from that country who have been interested in how they might help us in the most effective way, given the opportunities that are opening up. Continue reading

The situation of religious liberty in Cuba / Mario Lleonart

The delegation from Instituto Patmos, invited by United for Human Rights to the celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During all of 2014 this blog, Cubano Confesante, I examined the best part of the thirty questions that doubt the supposed religious liberties in Cuba, which were launched in September of 2013 during the trip we took to Washington, invited by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

These analyses were the object of discussion in forums and workshops convened by the Instituto Patmos in various sites in Cuba, and at times also some of those posts were the fruit of these. This contributed to sharing these contents in an island where access to internet is difficult. Continue reading

Alan Gross, ‘The New York Times’ And The Spies / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

American Contractor Alan Gross

American Contractor Alan Gross

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 1 December 2014 — Last November 4, the White House reiterated that the case of citizen Alan Gross, prisoner in Cuba for bringing electronic equipment onto the Island, is not comparable to that of the Cuban spy members of the Wasp Network and that therefore there will be no exchange.

The reaffirmation invalidates the principal objective of the Havana regime in the kidnapping of Gross and took place amidst one of the intense campaigns by the so-called International Conference for the Liberty of the Five, which more than freedom for the prisoners has as its objective making noise and gaining followers from among the naïve of the world who may still be in favor of a Caribbean totalitarianism that approaches its 60th year.

Far and wide, the name of Gross has kept petitions moving that join the regime’s proposal that he should be exchanged for the spies. The Church World Service, for example, which since its beginning in 1948 has served the interests of the extreme left, made a three-day visit to Cuba at the beginning of November in which it made clear that Gross is only its excuse, and its objective: the liberation of the Cuban spies.

Among the saga of the editorials devoted to Cuba by the New York Times, which so far add up to six, the fourth, published at the very beginning of November, aligned with the proposal for exchange contrary to the reiterations by the American government. November, by the way, concludes with the visit by the editorial writer Ernesto Londono to Cuba, and with him, also, the spirit of each editorial arrives on the Island.

The support of the Church World Service for each propagandistic slogan Havana’s political agenda is to be expected, it has always been its trajectory. Never a statement in favor of the victims of the system, always in favor of the victimizer.

But the case of the New York Times has been different, because in its history we remember positions contrary to the dictatorial excesses on the Island, as occurred in the face of the so-called Black Spring of 2003. At that time, Fidel Castro’s “Reflections” did not report favorably on the positions taken by the New York Times, nor did we see the wholesale publication of New York Times editorials in the Communist Party Organ, but all to the contrary.

Like that article in Granma of April 24, 2003, under the signature of Arsenio Rodriguez, which Reinaldo Escobar of 14ymedio reminded us of, where he stated: “…its editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but they obediently comply with the defense orders of the dominant power interests of that nation,” to conclude: “…the true role of The New York Times (sic) was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”

On the other hand, the New York Times has never said that those who hold political power in Cuba are a good government, what it criticizes are positions historically maintained by the United States, which from its point of view have been ineffective in achieving the dismantlement of totalitarianism on the Island and for which it proposes another policy, one of rapprochement, which some call “the embrace of death.”

Even if I do not agree with the New York Times’ thesis, I do hope that after their present visit to the island, the new editorials that are published will correct a little their current direction. For example, in the case of the fourth editorial I have the hope that Londono will not only interview Gross himself in person, but that he will explore other possible resolutions for the case that worries him, that of the spies, more feasible for an exchange and that until now he has not considered: that of the exchange of other probable spies for spies.

This has to do with cases like that of Ernesto Borges Perez, accused of spying for the United States, now confined in the Combinado del Este Prison, in his 16th year of incarceration, the same amount of time as the three who are imprisoned in the United States accused of spying for Cuba.

Under accusations similar to those of Borges are found also Rolando Sorraz Trujillo, sentenced to 25 years since 1995; Claro Fernando Alonso Hernandez, sentenced to 30 years since 1996; the team of Ricardo Alarcon, ex-president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Miguel Alvarez, sentenced to 30 years, and Mercedes Arce, sentenced to 14; and Eusebio Conrado Hernandez Garcia, close to the ousted Carolos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque, sentenced to 20 years, which he is serving in the Guanajay prison.

It is obvious that the Cuban regime is not interested in packing off these prisoners who seem to be a high priority of general Raul Castro, but one would have to see his reaction if the United States government recognizes that the accusation under which Havana keeps in prison – with severe penalties – these Cubans were correct and were to take an even further step, weighing as more valid the option of exchanging for them the three Cuban spies in United States territory.

Maybe the New York Times, which likes to look for the fifth leg to the table, will redirect its proposal and expose this more comparable option. And that, of course, the exchange of spies for spies will be produced with the antecedent liberation of Alan Gross, who evidently did not spy for anyone and finds himself unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Translated by MLK