What The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Taught Me

Father José Conrado Rodríguez, priest of the Catholic Church in Trinidad, Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Trinidad, Cuba, 24 May 2020 — When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in Cuba, it was precisely in the city of Trinidad, where I lived and worked as a Catholic priest for just over seven years, where the epidemic began: three Italian tourists and one North American were the first affected. We already knew from the news of the serious situation affecting Italy and Spain and other European countries. Alarm took hold of the city. Perhaps the first to react were the owners of hostels and restaurants, especially threatened by their proximity to tourists. Before the government took the first measures, they closed their establishments. Some even wrote to President Díaz-Canel warning of the danger and demanding radical and urgent measures.

For this reason, when two officials from the Party and the Municipal Ministry of Justice visited me to explain the measures that would be taken, I told them that we were in agreement and would support them without reluctance, as we had already received the recommendations that they had prepared in this regard from the Vatican commission for divine worship.

To the officials, I expressed my surprise at the official delay in taking the measures, given the rapid spread of the serious pandemic. I even invited them to see how we had already taken measures in the church, separating the pews, placing chlorine-soaked carpets and directing worsipers to wash their hands with hypochlorite water, when entering and leaving the church. continue reading

Later I would learn that in Europe advertisements appeared in magazines and newspapers to visit Cuba as a coronavirus-free tourist destination with a good healthcare system. To a friend who called me from abroad, worried about the Cuban response in the face of Covid-19, I replied: “They will know how to do it. They are good at managing disaster. They have been doing it for more than 60 years. What they don’t know is managing prosperity.”

“They are good at managing disaster. They have been doing it for more than 60 years. What they don’t know is managing prosperity.”

When the radical restraining order came, at the end of March, this meant zero visits to rural communities and to families in the city that occupied a good part of my time and, in addition, the solitary celebration of the mass. One of the couples of the parish appeared with a huge plastic bag filled with rice, beans, and mutton.

It was the beginning of a continual arrival of the most varied things: fresh and canned milk and meat, fresh and canned fish, soup powder envelopes, dehydrated potatoes, and all kinds of food, vegetables and fruits, etc. My refrigerator has never been more full, nor has my table been so well served as in these days of the coronavirus. Thanks to the generosity of my parishioners and even of people who do not belong to the community.

I quickly realized that it was necessary to create a new routine that would guide everyday life. In my case, with a marked family tendency to obesity, and since I would not have the possibility of my usual exercise, visiting the sick and my parishioners, “exercising at home” was required. But my house is a barely more than a hut. The guest room: with two beds, a wardrobe and open shelving is the receptacle for how much is lost, suitcases, donation clothes, electrical equipment, tools… A true Pandora’s box!

My bedroom-office-living room: in a space of less than 10 by 11 feet there are the bed, the desk, a cabinet, an open closet and an armchair. The walls are upholstered with books, pictures and paintings that my painter friends have given me: three Broches, (an excellent Trinidadian painter and beloved parishioner), a Cuban landscape of Calzada, some sunflowers from my son and former parishioner, José Miguel Martínez, and a landscape of the Camaguey Montes de Oca.

Here I decided to put my daily gym, each time taking out the chair and the fan. Very early in the morning my day begins with dancing for an hour to the rhythm of Celia Cruz, followed by a bath and morning prayer time: lauds and the office of readings, which culminate with the celebration of mass at 8.30 in the morning.

After breakfast “the pastoral work on the phone” begins from my multi-use room. I have been at it for up to eight uninterrupted hours, literally hanging on the phone

After breakfast “the pastoral work on the phone” begins from my multi-use room. I have been at it for up to eight uninterrupted hours, literally hanging on the phone, and wanting to hang myself with it, if I am to be honest. A turning point for me was learning, in the same week, of the death, in New Jersey, of my friend Miguelina Rodríguez, the extraordinary mother of a family and a militant and committed Catholic, who made her life a gift of love for others.

And of Víctor Batista Falla in Havana! A great cultural promoter and patron, founder and owner of the Colibrí publishing house. Víctor was the uncle of María Teresa Mestre Batista, the archduchess of Luxembourg. For sixty years he remained outside Cuba, most of the time in Spain. He had told me that he would never return to the Island.

But like Heredia the 19th century poet, in the end nostalgia overcame him. A few days after arriving, the disease was declared. And he died. The death of these two great friends was a severe blow to me and a different way of perceiving Covid-19.

On the other hand, as the news of what was happening in Italy and Spain came, my anguish was growing. In both countries I have a multitude of friends, of whom I knew nothing. Although the slogan of Etecsa, Cuba’s telecommunications company, is “in war and in peace we will maintain communications,” for those who have tried to communicate with Cuba, or from Cuba, it is a risky adventure and not always successful.

When I tried to install their “Nauta home” internet service, it was denied because I am an institution, not a family home. On the other hand, my pastoral work with the exile was concentrated on my trips outside of Cuba.

But when I arrived here I did not insist on telephone or electronic communication, so as not to interfere with my pastoral work here, more than abundant with such an extensive parish, in the city and in the countryside. At last I discovered a thing called mobile data, which gives me access to the internet and allows me to communicate by WhatsApp, a fairly expeditious way.

This is how I found out about the illness of my New Orleans cousins ​​and my dear friend Miguelina Rodríguez from New Jersey. This is how I learned about my Madrid priest Jesús García Camón, my adoptive parents from Madrid, Papo and Nena Robles, Father José Manuel Sánchez Caro, my rector at the University of Salamanca, all safe and sound, and about my former teachers and colleagues from the University of Comillas, in Madrid. And so many others.

These solitary Masses allowed me to rediscover the Eucharist. Without an audience, I no longer had to worry about time

At daily mass I prayed for everyone. These solitary Masses allowed me to rediscover the Eucharist. Without an audience, I no longer had to worry about time. It was the Lord and me. My parishioners and friends were physically absent but my masses were pro vobis et pro multis: For you and for the mutitude. My Masses, without a homily, could last an hour and even longer.

In thanksgiving I would take my imaginary plane and tour my extensive parish, then all of Cuba, diocese by diocese, its bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laity. Later I went up to Miami, and from there, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Saint Augustine, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Boston, and from Boston Canada. There I prayed for the nuncio Luigi Bonazzi, Sara Olga, Rogelio, Evelin, and so many other friends. I returned to the United States through Wisconsin, Chicago, Kentucky and the south-central United States: Louisiana, New Mexico, Phoenix, etc. Then I returned west, from Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, entered Mexico, and then flew over Central and South America… to the Caribbean, the Greater and Lesser Antilles: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, the Bahamas … to Spain, Italy, France… my friends from Poland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, former diplomats in Cuba and those who welcomed me in those countries when I went to receive the Geremek Prize. The Middle East and Africa where so many comrades from Comillas and Salamanca, Africans, work today. Russia, China, Japan, Philippines, India, Vietnam. Until ending in New Zealand and Australia. That is, the wide world, without excluding anyone.

In these days I have discovered the truth contained in the title of that book by Congar: Wide world, my parish. Countries and Churches; Cubans, whom I carry always in my heart, wherever they are, Catholics or not, believers or atheists. My Cuba with a capital letter, even those who consider me their enemy.

Even those who I think are wrong, because they excluded and banished those who think differently: how to forget what the Master – José Martí – said, when he portrayed himself in those verses that we learned as children: “I want when I die, without a country but without a master…” But without chauvinism, without excluding those who did not have the happiness of being born on this earth and under this sky. Because they too, those who are not Cubans, are my brothers.

People have almost naturally understood Covid-19 as a deserved warning for what we are doing to God’s creation. Not so much in the key of punishment, but more positively, in the key of warning

What does God mean by all this?

I have been struck by the fact that here in Cuba, and from what I see in other parts of the world, people have understood, almost naturally, Covid-19 as a deserved warning for what we are doing to God’s creation. Not so much in the key of punishment, but more positively, in the key of warning. I have called it “the divine knock.” We cannot continue as we were.

Perhaps Pope Francis came forward with his precious encyclical letter Laudato si. The Pope, taking up a Franciscan inspiration and perspective, so in keeping with his name and program as a Pontiff, with the added value of being a convinced and convincing Jesuit. The Pope has helped us understand the responsibility we have with the world, this magnificent and beautiful gift, which does not exclude, but includes the one who is the summit and crown of this divine gift, the human being, humanity. We are singers and maximum beneficiaries of creation, the stewards and custodians of this gift that is life itself, as a mystery and as a task.

That is why I dedicate these reflections to our dear supreme Shepherd, sometimes as criticized as misunderstood, even from within the Church. So with these reflections, I am making public a letter that I sent to Pope Francis two years ago. I did not make it public because in those days, which coincided with his visit to Chile, the Pope was object of so much criticism and rejection by different sectors in that country, although that had been my intention because it was an “open letter.” Nothing is further from me than collaborating with that negative and gratuitous environment, giving rise to being put in the same bag as those critics of the moment. The Pope is a prophet, I perceive it this way, and for this I want to thank him, from this my lost corner between the hills of Escambray.

Christ came to establish koinonia, communion, which has a concrete and direct expression in the kiss of peace, the fraternal embrace in the liturgy of Holy Mass. Normally, I never get tired of hugging my parishioners before and after Sunday mass: young people, children, adults or the elderly.

Trinidad, an eminently tourist city, with about 2,000 families that rent to tourists, is full of these voluntary slaves to the “tourist-God.” “I had to make breakfast for my tourists” is an excuse that I hear more than I would like when people have missed Mass on Sunday

I believe that for the majority of my parishioners coming to mass on Sunday is a favor that they do to God. But how easily they leave the Most High planted. Nothing is said when business is involved. Trinidad, an eminently tourist city, with about 2,000 families that rent to tourists, is full of these voluntary slaves to the “tourist-God.” “I had to make breakfast for my tourists” is an excuse that I hear more than I would like when people have missed Mass on Sunday.

Two months ago the tourists left but my parishioners have been left without the Sunday mass… and how much they yearn for it! In the city, nervousness is felt due to the lack of food, the endless lines and the growing lack of money, and it has everyone crying out for God: “How long, Lord, will you keep forgetting us… How long, Lord, will you hide your face!”

And I myself how many times did I cowardly fall silent without telling them what I clearly perceived as failure of my sheep! Many years ago, at a mass celebrated in Santa Teresita, my parish at the time, my dear Archbishop Pedro Meurice attacked the half-heartedness of our faithful. So strong was the rebuke that I felt compelled to defend the people by reminding my archbishop in the middle of mass of the difficult life they led. My wise father-bishop, when I finished speaking, said to me: “José Conrado, do not defend them. They, you and I, are lacking God. We are responsible for the tenderness with which we serve the Lord, who gave everything for us on the cross, do not feel sorry for them, because the day will come when they, and the two of us, will be judged as lukewarm, if the Lord does not spew us out of his mouth before: Revelations 3,15-16: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.

I fell silent and sat down. Ashamed, because I realized that Meurice was absolutely right. We were the sentries, the guardians of the flock, but how many times had we forgotten the first reading of his bishop’s ordination and my priestly ordination: “But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.” (Jer 1,7-8, 17).

Cowardly shepherds of a cowardly people. Where are we going to stop? The story says that Seneca, the Stoic Roman philosopher, told his former disciple, the Emperor Nero: “All your power over me is based on the fear that I have had for you. That power will vanish when I stop fearing you. And, in right, I’m not afraid of you anymore.” Nero sentenced him to death but Seneca was free at last. Free from the fear and abject life of those who sell their birthright for a plate of lentils.

“Without country, but without master.” The mission of the Church is to help people lose their fear

“Without country, but without master.” The mission of the Church is to help people lose their fear. Christ said so many times to the apostles: “Do not be afraid… The truth will set you free.” The “learned helplessness” or induced hopelessness, as I explained in my thesis for the degree in journalism, is the weapon that allows the powerful of this world to take from us the responsibility, the awareness of our dignity, that is, our ability to tell the truth and do good. Because “freedom is the right of every man to be honest, to think and speak without hypocrisy” as Martí taught children in The Golden Age.

Lichi, the son of Eliseo Diego, expressed it in this dilemma, which he took from the character of a story by Horacio Quiroga. “The peon, scared to death but ready to die with dignity, shouts to the foreman of the hacienda: That he does not obey you does not mean he betrays you.” Lichi goes on to say: “The currency could be flipped: that I obey you does not mean that I am loyal to you. Today I shield myself in Quiroga’s chest,” concludes Lichi, “to say that fear can explain much of what happened in my country.”

This strange introduction serves as an preamble to my final reflections, or rather to my final experiences. As I said before making the most drastic decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, I received a visit from two officials, one from the Party and the other from the Ministry of Justice. And I promised to support the measures already contemplated in the guidelines issued by the Holy See and other countries. So I did it. But in the following weeks I received several visits to find out if we were abiding by the measures. Apparently, the open doors of the church, although the bars, which prevented the entrance to the church, were closed, and my long daily masses, sung, made them suspect my failure to do so. I had explained to the congregation that they could spiritually join the celebrations from their homes.

On April 26, (we had more than 45 days without cases of Covid-19 in the city) four people asked to please participate in Sunday mass and were allowed. On Sunday, May 3, 11 people came. All distancing measures were taken (five yards, with facemasks and previous washing of hands and shoes, when entering and leaving the church). That week I received a visit from both officials to complain about the presence of those few faithful. I told them that next Sunday we would not let the faithful enter. But I had not realized that it was Mother’s Day Sunday, very important for us Cubans. On Mother’s Day we let twelve people and two technicians come in, who arrived early to make an urgent fix of an electrical problem in the parish house. But at 9 o’clock the gate was closed so that no one could pass.

I went out to greet the “companions,” who, quite upset, began to argue with the faithful. The response of the faithful was forceful: before coming to the church they had seen the people clustered in lines, without protection measures and without police to organize them, unlike what happened in the church. Marta, known for her revolutionary commitments since the citizen resistance to the Batista dictatorship, was the first to speak: “Be careful not to touch the father. He did not invite anyone to come. We are here because we felt like it and the measures of protection we have had here I have not seen them anywhere.”

She told them, “Go take care of the lines where they are not keeping their distance, nor are they protecting people. They need you there.” When they asked for the card – allowing people to circulate – only a faithful had it. But Martica said: “I didn’t bring the card, but I know the number by heart. If they fine the brother, let them fine me too.” In the end, only Albertico was fined: 100 pesos out of the 350 of his monthly retirement. (We plan to collect at one peso per person, to pay Albertico’s fine).

When at the peak of the discussion the compañera from the Ministry of Justice said that she was following orders, and that she had received them from Caridad Diego who had called her from the Central Committee, it was I who jumped

When at the peak of the discussion the compañera from the Ministry of Justice said that she was following orders, and that she had received them from Caridad Diego who had called her from the Central Committee, it was I who jumped up. “Wait a minute, this discussion is not caused by the pandemic. This is what they want to turn into a political issue. Please tell Doña Caridad that I am not afraid of her. If she is behind this, it is for a personal matter. Because 25 years ago, when I wrote Fidel Castro a letter about the desperate situation in the town, that lady has had it in for me. She should obey the deceased commander, who back then, when she asked him for instructions on the measures they would take against “that ungrateful priest who dared to confront our commander,” Fidel said to her: “Leave the priest alone.”

In the end, we agreed to have a meeting the next day with the municipal official responsible for hygiene and epidemiology. In a climate of respect and understanding we had that meeting. I explained that if I did not reject the 12 people who came that Sunday it was because I realized that they were stressed, because the press was talking about the failures that the attention to the pandemic had in the United States and that they had their children and grandchildren and other relatives in that country. And they came to pray for them. Based on the measures we had taken in the parish, I knew that they would be out of danger here. (At some point the day before, one of the officials suggested that I was not interested in the safety of my parishioners, without taking into account that people can also die of stress, of anguish, not only of the coronavirus). A guide, political or religious, has to take those factors into account, I say, because “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

I looked at the televised mass on Sundays: up to 15 or more people in a space one fourth the size of my parish church

I looked at the televised mass on Sundays: up to 15 or more people in a space one fourth the size of my parish church. On the other hand, I had known of other parishes that had had masses with some faithful, even more than those who had come to Paula these four Sundays, without being questioned or threatened by the authorities. Even at Easter! All this led me to think that I could open my hand a little to help people who needed it, without creating major problems or posing a threat to people. But the truth is that I have always been a fairly naive man. What I did, whatever it was, would always be misinterpreted by the authorities.

The following Sunday, May 17, there were only four people at mass. I had fallen asleep and they were already in the church when I came down. It is very hard to expel people who come desperate. The fifth was followed, from his home to the church, by a car driven by a soldier in uniform. To this lady, the only one who asked if she should stay, I said: “Go home. I don’t want them to think that we are provoking you. That is not our intention.” This time the cordon, official or unofficial, was greater. They sat in the park waiting for the end of mass. But this was so long and with so many songs, that in the end they left. When they were leaving mass the few faithful who had participated in it told me that the park was empty, I said, laughing, “There is no doubt that the mass has the virtue of scaring away demons.”

Despite this humorous phrase, I want to make it clear that I detest the demonization of the different, the one who thinks differently or belongs to “another Church.” The uncritical posture that forgives everything to those who think as I do, and who attacks the enemy on the side, seems to me one of the greatest miseries of the time in which we live. When I told my Spanish son, Felipe Ronda (whom I call “Felipe I of Spain,” since the King is Felipe VI, and may the Crown forgive me if I offend him with that!), he said: “Old man, politicians manipulate and want to take advantage of even pandemics. Everything turns on propaganda and power management. Here in Spain they are doing the same thing.”

That is why I deeply admire my friend the Argentine-Jewish journalist Andrés Oppenheimer, who has written so much about corruption, both in the US and in Latin America, the same on the left as on the right. He won his first Pulitzer for his research on Iran-Contra. I am very honored by the words he wrote in his book Chronicles of Heroes and Bandits about corruption, that of politicians and the military as well as of businessmen and intellectuals… although in his book he speaks not only of corruption, but of the virtues and good examples of men and women, who, whether lowly or from the stage of power, are good examples to follow: “For José Conrado, whom I deeply admire, among other things, for his courage to denounce bandits. Your friend,” Andrés Oppenheimer.

I always like to talk “of right and wrong.” It seems to me that the most divine attribute of God is that he can bring good even from evil

I always like to talk “of right and wrong.” It seems to me that the most divine attribute of God is that he can bring good even from evil. How he manages, don’t ask me: my theology doesn’t go that far. In these months a cartoon went viral showing God talking to the devil: the latter, rubbing his hands, said to God, “Did you notice how I closed all the your temples with one stroke?” While God, smiling peacefully, replied: “Did you notice how I have turned every home into a temple?”

The Coronavirus has become a tough but perhaps necessary lesson. We must return to the essential. Put aside foolish pride, blind ambition, empty vanity and discover that God has left us two great sacraments of his presence: the Eucharist and human beings: especially the one most in need of our solidarity and love. Both sacraments must be appreciated in all their value. Let us not forget that the sacrament is not only a sign, but an instrument: it realizes what it means. When we can neither embrace those we love, nor celebrate the living presence of God in his Eucharist, it is when we better understand its value because “nobody appreciates what he has until he loses it,” as the saying goes. Amen.

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Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez Denounces Cuba’s “Totalitarian” System

José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of one of his books in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 19 September 2018 — The political system in Cuba, an inheritance from the former Soviet Union, is deeply monstrous and inhuman. Caribbean totalitarianism has turned every Cuban into an executioner and at the same time into a victim and the only way to escape from the vicious circle of lies and fear – the basis of the system – is to try to live in the truth. This is one of the conclusions of the new book Resistance and Submission in Cuba , by José Conrado Rodríguez, which will be presented this Wednesday at the Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre in Miami.

With a prologue by Carlos Alberto Montaner, Universal Editions has published this book that complements the recently released Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba. It is an analysis of communist totalitarianism from the point of view of four authors from the periphery of the Soviet empire: Czeslaw Milosz from Poland, Constantin Noica from Romania, Vaclav Havel from the Czech Republic, and Cuban Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz.

“The liberating force of truth, understood as a way of life, as a purpose in life, and as a fidelity to what we are, has an intimate dimension and is related to the knowledge of ourselves,” Rodríguez explains. continue reading

The dissidence, for this author and priest, is in intimate connection with the truth, because only from a coherent life that breaks with the social rites of the system, such as repeating slogans nobody believes in, can real change be driven.

The four authors on whom Father José Conrado Rodríguez based his reflection suffered under the communist system. Milosz (1911-2004), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, in his work The Captive Mind analyzes the process of assimilation of totalitarianism on the part of intellectuals. The philologist Constantin Noica (1909-1987) was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Stalinist regime of Ceaucescu in Romania. In his essay Pray for Brother Alexander, published posthumously in 1991, he makes it clear that only a life in truth and compassion can exorcise totalitarianism.

From Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), activist and, later, president of his country, Rodríguez addresses The Power Of The Powerless, an analysis of what he called post-totalitarian societies, where dictatorship goes hand in hand with ideology, where it becomes a kind of secular religion. Finally, from his compatriot Eliseo Alberto de Diego, he addresses Report Against Myself, a raw account of power in Cuba.

In a society like Cuba manipulation and lies are the basis of the system, says Rodríguez, paraphrasing Vaclav Havel. Already past the caudillo and the first stages of the revolution in which terror filled the prisons with political prisoners and brought down each of the democratic institutions, power does not need society to cohere.

If, earlier, the system tried to create a feeling of “the masses” and intensify the “fighting spirit” against an attacking enemy, the post-totalitarian society seeks to compel the population to accept the status quo.

The system will try to demonstrate “socialist legality” as a way to legitimize itself. “The function of ideology is to fill the gap between the plans of the system and the plans of life, implying that the intentions of the system derive from the needs of life, which is not true, but functions as if it were,” says Rodríguez.

Legality is one of the main weapons that the system has to defend itself. Laritza Diversent, an independent lawyer who went into exile in the United States, has detailed at least 400 laws in the Cuban criminal code that can be used against the opposition movement. In a post-totalitarian society like Cuba’s, everything is limited, controlled, well subjugated to the state apparatus, Rodríguez wrote.

Father Conrado uses Havel’s example of the self-employed person who takes a poster with a political slogan and hangs it in his window. He has not read it, the people who will visit his business will not read it either. The entrepreneur may not even agree with the content of the slogan (the likes of which abound in Cuban stores). But when he puts it in his window he has fulfilled the “social rite,” has been immunized against the suspicion of being disloyal to the system.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of cruelty that the book presents is that of Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz, forced to spy on his own father, the Cuban poet Eliseo Diego. “We are at war against Yankee imperialism, Lieutenant,” he was told while serving in the Cuban army. “The Central Intelligence Agency has an exorbitant costume shop to hide spies, we can not lower our guard,” says the author in his Report Against Myself.

Before the timid objections of Diego García Marruz they gave him a report with the State Security files about his family. Former classmates, residents of the neighborhood, even exiles from Miami who visited his home had delivered reports to the all-powerful Cuban State Security.

“One against others, some over others, many Cubans were trapped in a network of mistrust,” writes Rodriguez and wonders how it is possible that in all the places where the totalitarian system has been established, the same things happened.

“How is it possible that the Russians and the Romanians, the Czechs and the Poles, the Cubans and the Chinese were victims of the same destructive mechanism? Victims and executioners: we ourselves have been transformed into these. We are the victims and the instruments of the system,” he concludes.

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Three Priests Ask Raúl Castro For Real Elections To “Avoid Violent Changes”

The signatories recall that the the Government restricts the manner in which religion is practiced on the Island, and mentions by way of example that public processions or masses must have the express permission of the authorities (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 January 2018 — Three Catholic priests have addressed a letter to President Raul Castro in which they ask the president to let Cubans “choose in freedom,” not vote. In this way, the priests warn, the island will have “different” political options to “prevent that one day, given whatever circumstances, Cuba is submerged in violent changes.”

The signatories of the letter, written on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the “Mass of the Homeland” presided over by Pope John Paul II, and reproduced in full in a public letter, are Castor José Álvarez de Devesa, of Camagüey; José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, from Trinidad, and Roque Nelvis Morales Fonseca, from Holguín.

“We want to choose in freedom. In Cuba there are votes, not elections. It is urgent to have elections where we can decide not only our future, but also our present. Now we are invited to ‘vote,’ to say ‘yes’ to what already exists and there is no willingness to change. Choosing implies, in itself, different options, choosing implies the possibility of taking several paths,” say the priests. continue reading

The three priests note that, “Since the institutionalization of the Communist Party as the only party authorized to exist, this people has never been allowed to raise a different voice,” and emphasize that all criticism has been silenced.

According to the authors of the letter, the political changes they defend must be accompanied by the creation of a “Rule of Law” in which there is a clear distinction between the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and their independence is guaranteed.

“We want our judges not to be pressured, for the law to be order, for illegality not to be a way of subsisting or a weapon of domination,” argues the letter, which at the same time demands that the Capitol be filled with legislators who represent the interests of their constituents.” The letter denounces “the lack of religious freedom” since “the Church is tolerated, but it is constantly monitored and controlled.”

The letter also states that the Government restricts the manner in which religion is practiced on the Island, and mentions by way of example that public processions or masses must have the express permission of the authorities, and if this is not granted no explanations are given.

The legalization of private and independent media is another of the demands of the letter, whose signatories note that the Church does not have free access to the mass media in Cuba and argue that the “monopoly and control of communication media means that nobody can access public media freely.”

“Cubans have the right to participate as investors in the economy and in our country’s negotiations,” demands the publication, which blames the “lamentable economic helplessness” that Cubans experience on the lack of opportunities for citizens to invest in the island on an equal basis with foreigners.

Nor has education been left out of the epistle, which notes that although education is a guaranteed right on the island and schooling is compulsory, there is a “teaching of a single way of thinking.” The letter defends young people’s right to “educational alternatives” and “options for the teaching of thought” and goes on to say that parents should have the right to choose “what kind of education they want for their children.”

In recent years several calls for attention from Catholic priests to the Government have had a great impact on national and international public opinion. In September of 1993, when the country was immersed in a deep economic crisis, the Cuban bishops released the pastoral “Love endures all things.”

Twenty years later, in 2013, another pastoral titled “Hope does not disappoint,” signed by 13 active bishops and Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, addressed 43 points of the national reality that, from the perspective of the Cuban Catholic Church, should be improved.

Now, the three priests have chosen to publish their letter on a date to pay tribute to Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiú, of Santiago de Cuba, who on January 24, 1998 gave a homily during the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island, an event at which Raúl Castro, then Minister of the Armed Forces, was also present. During the mass the Pope defined the Cuban people in a memorable way.

A growing number of Cubans “have confused the homeland with a party, the nation with the historical process we have experienced in recent decades and the culture with an ideology,” said the Archbishop at that time.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Letter to Raul Castro from Three Cuban Priests

A makeshift shrine to Cuba’s Patroness, The Virgin of Charity of Cobre, on Havana’s Malecon

To Raúl Castro Ruz on the 20th anniversary of the Mass for the Homeland celebrated by Saint John Paul II and the words of Bishop Pedro Meurice at Antonio Maceo Plaza in Santiago de Cuba, on January 24, 1998.

On the first of January, the 59th anniversary of the triumph of a Revolution was commemorated. A Revolution necessary in the face of the atrocities committed with impunity by a power that had turned against this people. Many fought and many died to give their children a Cuba where they could live in freedom, peace and prosperity.

Today, almost six decades later, we have sufficient arguments to evaluate what we have experienced in our land.

Since the institutionalization of the Communist Party as the only party authorized to exist, this people has never been allowed to raise a different voice, rather, every different voice that has tried to make itself heard has been silenced. continue reading

This totalitarian style has permeated every layer of society. Cubans know they have no freedom of expression, they are careful in saying what they think and feel, because they live in fear, often even in fear of those with whom they live every day: classmates, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances and relatives. We live in a web of lies that runs from the home to the highest spheres. We say and do what we do not believe or feel, knowing that our interlocutors do the same. We lie to survive, hoping that some day this game will end or an escape route will appear in a foreign land. Jesus Christ said: “The truth will set you free.” We want to live in the truth.

The monopoly and control of communication media means that nobody can access public media freely. Similarly, there is no alternative education. Every Cuban child has a right to education and access to a school, but to a single model of education, to a single ideology, to the teaching of a single way of thinking. Cubans have the right to have educational alternatives and options for the teaching of thought, Cuban parents have the right to choose what kind of education they want for their children.

The economic helplessness in which this people lives is lamentable, forced by circumstances to beg for help from relatives who managed to go abroad or from foreigners who visit us; to ask for fair compensation or to steal everything they can, renaming theft with delicate words that help the conscience so as not to show it in all its harshness.

Many families lack a minimally stable income that allows them to acquire the basics of living without worry. Feeding, clothing and providing shoes for children is a daily problem, public transport is a problem, even access to many medications is a problem. And in the midst of a people that struggles to survive, the unspoken suffering of the elderly, often silently unprotected, is inserted.

How can it be said that capital belongs to the people, when the people do not decide what is done with it? How can the necessary public institutions be maintained if there are not the necessary resources? Why are foreigners invited to invest their money and Cubans are not allowed to invest theirs in an equality of opportunities? Cubans have the right to participate as investors in the economy and in our country’s negotiations.

And to all this is added the lack of religious freedom. The Church is tolerated, but it is constantly monitored and controlled. Full religious freedom is limited with controlled freedom of permission to worship. Christians can come together to share their faith, but they are not allowed to build a temple. The Church can hold processions and even public Masses, but always on the condition of an express permission from the authorities which, if it is not granted, is not subject to appeal or explanation. The Church can raise its voice in the temples, but it does not have free access to the mass media and, in the few moments when this does happen, it is always under censorship. The laity are censored when they try to apply their faith to political and social practice.

This social dynamic that has resulted in Cuba has forgotten the person, his dignity as a child of God and his inalienable rights; almost 60 years after this people believed in an ideal that is always postponed and never realized. When someone questions, when someone raises their voice, they find only vulnerability and exclusion.

We want a country where life is more respected from conception to natural death, where the union of the family is strengthened and marriage between a man and a woman is cared for; in which pensions are enough for our elders to live on; in which professionals can live with dignity on their salaries; where citizens can become entrepreneurs and there is more freedom of work and contracts for athletes and artists. Young Cubans should find work opportunities that allow them to develop their talents and skills here and not see leaving Cuba as the only way out.

We have a legality subject to power, the absence of a “Rule of Law.” The clear distinction and independence of the three powers is essential: executive, legislative and judicial. We want our judges not to be pressured, for the law to be order, for illegality not to be a way of subsisting or a weapon of domination. Let our Capitol be filled with legislators who, with full power, represent the interests of their constituents.

Our people are discouraged and tired, there is a stagnation that can be summed up in two words: survive or escape. Cubans need to experience the joy of “thinking and speaking without hypocrisy” with different political opinions. We are tired of waiting, tired of running away, tired of hiding. We want to live our own lives.

This letter also has a purpose, which is a right: We want to choose in freedom. In Cuba there are votes, not elections. It is urgent to have elections where we can decide not only our future, but also our present. Now we are invited to “vote,” to say “yes” to what already exists and there is no willingness to change. Choosing implies, in itself, different options, choosing implies the possibility of taking several paths.

If we write this letter is to prevent that one day, given whatever circumstances, Cuba is submerged in violent changes that would only add more useless suffering. We still have time to follow a progressive process towards a plurality of options that allows a favorable change for everyone. But time is running out, it is urgent to open the door.

There is no use hiding the truth. It is useless to pretend that nothing is happening. It is useless to cling to power. Our Master Jesus Christ tells Cubans today: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he forfeits his life?” We are in time to construct a different reality. We are in the time to create the Cuba Martí desired: “With all and for the good of all.”

We entrust ourselves to the intercession of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba. She, Mother of all Cubans, intercedes before the Lord of history who, as His Holiness Benedict XVI said in Cuba: “God not only respects human freedom, but seems to need it,” so that we can always choose the greater good for all.

Father Castor José Álvarez de Devesa, Cura del Modelo, Camagüey

Father José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Pastor of San Francisco de Paula, Trinidad, Cienfuegos

Father Roque Nelvis Morales Fonseca, Pastor of Cueto, Holguín

Cuban Faces 2017: José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Priest

Father José Conrado Rodríguez, priest of the Catholic Church in Trinidad, Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2017 — More than a man who believes, the priest José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre (b. 1951, San Luis, Santiago de Cuba) is a human being who overflows with credibility from every pore of his skin.

He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1976 and since then he has managed to reconcile, without a shadow of contradictions, his devotion to the Church and his love for Cuba. He proved it in the almost 14 years that he was parish priest of the church of Santa Teresita in Santiago de Cuba and continues to do so in his new parish of San Francisco de Paula, in Trinidad, where he was sent in 2013.

In October, José Conrado presented his book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba at the Amphitheater of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami; in the book he says, “The Catholic Church of Cuba has a future of hope because despite the forces that have wanted to sow hatred in the Cuban nation, love has always triumphed.”

Among the irreverences noted next to Father José Conrado’s name in his secure police file is an open letter to the government of Fidel Castro, dated 1994, and another written in 2009 to the current president Raul Castro, as well as notes of his participation in the meetings of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum.

Not satisfied, last July he accompanied the priest Castor Álvarez in officiating a mass at the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton.

His pastoral work, his absolute detachment from material goods in favor of the most needy and, above all, his personal courage to conduct himself as dictated by his conscience, against all hierarchies, make this pastor a personality of the first order in today’s Cuba.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Obama Made The Mistake Of “Giving In Without Demanding,” Regrets Father Conrado

“The Church does not have many possibilities to help because the spaces that the Government gives are very small and because the Cuban Church is poor,” says the priest José Conrado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 November 2017 — The Catholic priest José Conrado Rodríguez, parish priest of the church of San Francisco de Paula in Trinidad, visited Miami last week to present his book Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba.

On the way to Miami’s Ermita de la Caridad, where he planned to offer his book to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, he spoke with 14ymedio about the Cuban reality and the role of the Catholic Church, the largest religious group on the island with a presence in each one of the municipalities of the country.

14ymedio/Mario Penton. What is your assessment of the Cuban reality?

José Conrado. Cuba is facing a huge material, economic, political and leadership crisis. It is the crisis of a model that has become insufficient and incapable of solving the problems of the nation, but at the bottom of this reality there is a deep spiritual and moral crisis. That is the root of the other crises. continue reading

What we are experiencing today has not come suddenly, but is the result of policies and deep attitudes that have led the nation to this deadend. The repression of freedom in Cuba and the religious conscience for many years has caused the crisis in which the country is sunk. It is the result of fear that has been planted, which is deep in the bones of people, in the most intimate, in the most personal.

14ym. If you keep raising your voice inside Cuba, why do you think the island government lets you leave and return, officiate Masses and even move freely around the country?

José Conrado. When one reaches a certain level of public and international recognition, the measures taken by the repressive organs are different. Because of being a priest, faithful to my convictions and pastoral work, they take care not to convert me into a problem with the Church. Nothing I do is bad. In no country in the world is it a crime to visit people, establish bridges and promote dialogues. The reality is that anyone can leave Cuba as long as they have the money for the passport and the visa of the country that receives them.

14ym. Do you feel guarded or persecuted by State Security?

José Conrado. Ah, yes. In Trinidad the largest urinal in the town is the door of my house, for example. I have denounced it many times, even from homilies, and nobody does anything. The men open their flies and in front of everyone they urinate on the door of the Church. There are even women who also do it. That is degrading. It is not by chance that we have denounced this so many times and it continues to happen.

14ym. Trinidad is a tourist village but you also know its poorest side. How is it that the city that does not appear in the guides for foreigners and what has the Church done to alleviate the hardships?

José Conrado. The Church does not have many possibilities to help because the spaces given by the government are very small and because the Cuban Church is poor. People get confused about the Church because it gives, but the reality is that it gives from its poverty. When the Church helps, it is because someone from outside the country gave something or because the faithful in Cuba, from their poverty, are capable of sharing. It is a true epic of the Cuban Church to help so many people with so few resources.

The programs of the parish are maintained thanks to my salary and the donations of the faithful. There is a lot of poverty in the cities but even more poverty in the rural towns. In the parish we are helping with food a group of about 20 children who do not have lunch at the rural school, but Hurricane Irma took the roof of the Church. Part of the money that is collected with the sale of the book Dreams And Nightmares Of A Priest In Cuba will be used to rebuild that site and another part will go to the victims of the hurricane in Ciego de Ávila.

We do everything we can to help people, but the service of faith in a people that has no hope is the greatest service we can provide. That is the mission of the Church.

Father José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of his book at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, accompanied by Manuel Salvat and Myriam Márquez. (14ymedio)

José Conrado.The Church did what it had to do – I’m speaking of Pope Francis. However, I see an important fissure: it was an agreement between the greats: the hierarchy of the Cuban Government, the Church and the United States, but the solutions Cuba requires are deeper. If we must have a healing as a nation, we need to do it for all Cubans, not just the rulers. That is why any arrangement that only touches the upper echelons is an insufficient arrangement.

In Cuba, everyone wanted and had hope with the path that President Obama initiated, but the United States Government yielded and yielded without demanding. That is an insufficient way to negotiate. Human rights are the entitlement of every human being and it is not a subject that is dispensable in negotiations with Cuba. This agreement between Cuba and the United States did not reach where it had to go.

14ym. Many people criticize the silence of the Cuban ecclesiastical hierarchy regarding issues such as the violation of human rights on the Island.

José Conrado.I myself have said on several occasions that this silence can be considered a complicit silence, but it would be very unfair not to remember that the Church has raised its voice many times to warn of danger. When one thinks of the Pastoral Letter Love Hopes All Things, or the letters of the bishops at the beginning of the Revolution and the documents of the Cuban National Ecclesiastical Meeting, a more objective assessment of the role of the Church in the history of the country can be made.

Normally nobody collects the homilies of priests and bishops, where they also denounce, but that is not written. We have more commitment to doing than to saying. I think there is a lot of injustice, but above all, ignorance among those who say that the Church is silent.

14ym. How much remains for the Cuban Church to do to accompany the people?

José Conrado.We have made our way in the silence, in the dedication of each day, in the fidelity of the Christian people who have lived alongside the Cuban people and have suffered their pains, sharing their needs and witnessing the presence of God in the midst of the people. The Church has to look ahead and that has to be the legacy of the Cuban Church.

The Church runs the danger of the self-referentiality that Pope Francis speaks so much of, to become an end in itself. As if all that would be needed is that there were ever more powerful and numerous Churches, but we know well that this is not what would allow us to achieve the realization of the vocation of the Church.

In this sense, the Cuban Church has an advantage: it is already in the peripheries, but it must have more audacity. God calls us in a certain circumstance and the Church is called to serve, that is his vocation: to serve the needy, those who are being persecuted and crushed.

14ym. What leadership does Cuba need to get out of the crisis?

José Conrado.Leaderships can be of many types, for example Fidel Castro, who gathers power in one hand and takes it away from individuals. There are other leaders, such as Mandela, who did not need to divide because he discovered that in the forgiveness of the other, in the recognition of the other person and in confronting violent attitudes and the denial of the other is true freedom and the best way to be a leader.

I believe that the leadership that Cuba needs is the one in which the leader denies his power so that people learn to be free and build a nation with all and for the good of all that is born of participation and responsibility in the face of to the common good.

14ym. How do you assess retirement of Jaime Ortega at the head of the Archdiocese of Havana?

José Conrado.It is too early to answer that question, but knowing as I know the new archbishop of Havana – a man of deep faith and a very radical commitment to the gospel – I am sure that his presence in the Archdiocese will be of great benefit for the people of the capital.

14ym. How do you value the evangelical churches gaining more and more ground in Cuba?

José Conrado.If Christ gains ground in Cuba, we all win. If a person truly becomes a Christian, we are happy whether he is Catholic or Protestant. Those who are not being Christians are those who, by considerations of doctrine, leave the path of charity. Among Catholics and Protestants in Cuba I see above all a lot of understanding and a lot of love. There are rare cases of those who react violently to another religious belief.

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá's Funeral (Luz Escobar)
Oswaldo Payá’s Funeral (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, 22 July 2014 – On 22 July 2014, the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and the activist Harld Cepero died. Payá led the Christian Liberation Movement and promoted the Varela Project, which managed to collect some 25,000 signatures to demand a national referendum. Freedom of expression, of association, freedom of the press and of business, as well as free elections, were some of the demands of that document signed by thousands of Cubans.

Nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Payá was one of the most visible and respected figures of the Cuban opposition. In 2002  the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights by and he was able to tour several countries to offer information about the situation on the island. He was also an official candidate for the Prince of Asturias Award and received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami.

Paya’s death occurred in the vicinity of the city of Bayamo, while he was traveling accompanied by the Spaniard Angel Carromero, the Swede Aron Modig, and his colleague Harold Cepero. The Cuban government explained the death as the result of a car accident, but his family and many Cuban activists have maintained their doubts about that version. An independent investigation into the events of that tragic July 22 has been requested in various international forums, but Cuban authorities have not responded to those requests.

On the second anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, we asked activists who shared his democratic ideals, “What is the greatest legacy of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement?”

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize

The main legacy left by Oswaldo Payá Sardinas for the Cuban nation, beyond its geographical boundaries, was that he showed his people and the world that the Cuban government breaks its own laws. When the Varela Project submitted almost 25,000 signatures to the People’s Assembly on a citizens’ petition for a plebiscite, the Cuban government refused to hold one and in a crude way changed the Constitution. That in my opinion was his main contribution: demonstrating that the Cuban government is beyond anything that could be construed as the Rule of Law and that it does not even respect its own draconian laws that support Castro’s totalitarian state. continue reading

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, promoter of Constitutional Consensus

I see the legacy of Oswaldo Paya in his pioneering activity to demonstrate that it was possible to generate civic trust towards democratic change. Even he had many doubts that the public would respond positively, would commit itself to a proposed change, especially at a time like the 90s and early 2000s when it was even more difficult for the civic movement. That’s what he sowed, what he left as a legacy, which demonstrated this as a future possibility for all pro-democracy activists on the island.

Dagoberto Valdés, director of the digital magazine Convivencia

First we recall our brother Oswaldo Paya with much love and affection and I would especially emphasize the future, in his legacy, the legacy he has rendered to all Cubans and so I think of the three gifts he left us. First, his posture, his civic attitude. He was a citizen who forged this society and who knew how to awaken a consciousness to fight for democracy in a peaceful way, and from there came his second contribution. Oswaldo was a man who fought tirelessly throughout his life with peaceful methods without being provoked or coming to violence. Finally—I have to say it—as someone who is also a Christian: he was a man who understood that religion could not be alienated or be divorced from the reality in which he lived, and that was why he was deeply committed as a Christian to work for democracy in Cuba.

Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre, Catholic priest

Oswaldo has left us a legacy full of sincerity and honesty; a love sacrificed for his country and a genuine commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel embodied in social life, in political life, in the good of others, everything that has to do with society as such. His was a radical commitment to the gospel, but at the same time, as it should be, to every human being. In remembering him, we must pay tribute to the man he was in every dimension, while we feel the pain of the brother we lost and we ask God that there be many others like him, men who can give their lives for others, in silence, in humility, in the midst of the misunderstandings of men, but certainly with a total commitment and a quality of life that today illuminates the existence of those of us still here.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)

There is no doubt that the late Oswaldo Payá left an everlasting impression. We remember him as a determined and courageous Cuban who, from an early date, assumed the method of nonviolent struggle with the intention of bringing Cuba the rights and freedoms that we have lacked for half a century. The work of the Christian Liberation Movement set a tone in peaceful actions in favor of the fair, free, democratic and prosperous Cuba that we all want, this was the side he was on.

The Varela Project, the citizen initiative launched by Oswaldo in which so many of us became involved full-time, also set a tone in the actions of the fighters for democracy. Initially, there were more than 11,000 people, in complex and difficult circumstances, circumstances that were against those who collected signatures and against those who signed that citizen petition. The fact that for the first time so many Cubans defended a proposal, putting their names and identity data, supporting the five points that made up the project, it was a real milestone.

Personally Oswaldo was a great friend with whom I shared both difficult and happy moments. We are very mindful of that. The Cuba Democratic Union (UNPACU) will render the homage he deserves on this second anniversary of his tragic death.

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Today, from 6:45 PM (Havana time) there will be the premiere of a documentary about Oswaldo Paya of the Varela Hall of Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, Florida. The video can also be viewed simultaneously on www.vocesdecuba.com.

Jose Conrado: “I ask Pope Francisco to be firm with the rulers.” / Ramiro Pellet Lastra

An interview with Father José Conrado, from Cuba, by La Nacion newspaper.

Photo: The Pope, yesterday, leaving the Mass he gave on the day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Photo: AFP

By Ramiro Pellet Lastra  | LA NACION  

José Conrado describes himself as a “small-town priest.” But from his parish in Santiago de Cuba, or in the colonial city of Trinidad, to where he was transferred, he throws verbal darts with a “language of the barricade” against corruption, repression, and other hallmarks of the Cuban government. Close to the dissident movements, Conrado has suffered pressure, aggression and even exile.  But he has continued denouncing the leadership of his country, as in this dialogue with LA NATION newspaper, during a visit to Buenos Aires, after attending the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.

Conrado only set aside denunciation in favor of enthusiastic praise when he analyzes Francisco‘s performance at the head of the Church, a man he trusts, and whom he hopes that “when Dilma, Cristina, or whoever goes to kiss his hand, he tells them the truth.”

How do you see the Cuba of today?

– Cuba is a bankrupt country, economically and morally bankrupt. From a family point of view, it’s an eroded country. There is not a single Cuban who doesn’t have relatives abroad, including Fidel Castro, who has several grandchildren and a daughter outside of Cuba as political exiles. It is a country where everyone, for one reason or another, has suffered the imprisonment of a family member, the death of a family member, in front of a firing squad or in the Straits of Florida. It’s a country with a history of political imprisonment.

-Why in Latin America there are those who still have a good image of the Castro regime?

-I think there is a certain complicity of the Left that wants to see Cuba as paradisiacal paradigm of what Revolution is and what social accomplishments are. There is also an ongoing press campaign on the part of the Cuban government. And there are the visitors to Cuba, because tourists see Cuba from air-conditioned buses and from five-star hotels.

-People came out into the streets to protest in many countries, democratic and non-democratic, but they did not do it in Cuba.

-People in other countries saw a space for freedom that made them decide to forget the spaces of their fear. We haven’t yet gotten to that point. I believe we have a point where this will happen, but we aren’t there yet. In Cuba, a popular saying goes: There’s not one to turn the government over to, but nor is there anyone who can fix it. Everyone in Cuba knows we must have change. It is a silent and unanimous agreement among all Cubans.

Will perhaps a minor incident light the fuse like in the “Arab Spring”?

-Yes, that could happen. I think the government stays away from large crowds.  They don’t have as many large demonstrations as before. I think the government has been very astute to not permit acts of unchecked violence on the part of the police. I think that people would throw themselves into the street [if such acts happened].

-And in this context, what prospects does the government have?

-The seriousness of the situation is forcing the government to think of another way out. Today they are proposing that those whom they always considered their eternal and bitter enemies, Cubans in exile, invest in Cuba..

As a Latin American priest, how did you experience the election of Pope Francisco?

-Francisco is a gift from God for a time of crisis. He is man who is above the conventions of the left and the right, because he goes for the essential, and the essential is God and the people who are suffering. Pope Francisco knows that he is a servant.

-Could he influence not only for Cuba, but for democracies in trouble?

 -I think that he is going to have great influence, because the Church needs a reform from within. How is he going to preach to the politicians not to steal otherwise? A Church renewed from within is an example for these men who have great responsibilities.

-In addition to being an example, could Francisco influence through his discourse, through direct denunciation?

-Yes, of course. I don’t ask the Holy Father to speak the language of the barricade, like I, a small town priest, do, but I do ask him to be very firm with the rulers. That when Dilma, Cristina, or whoever goes to kiss his hand, he tells them the truth.

Translated by: Ernesto Ariel Suarez

1 August 2013