Cuba Will Receive the Pope with a “Bath of Masses” / Iván García

It’s something exclusive to the olive-green revolution. Fifty-three years ago, when Fidel Castro toured the island mounted on a Sherman tank, after overthrowing the Batista dictatorship, he was feted frankly and spontaneously by a sea of Cubans and he felt comfortable surrounded by crowds.

Since that times, the baths of the masses were a weapon of his revolution. Five decades ago, large segments of people voluntarily attended the meetings and listened to long speeches of the one comandante.

Over time, that spontaneity is lost. Now in the 21st century, most people go to political rallies or the hosting of personalities as if they were going to a carnival. Or to a boring union meeting.

It is a mixture of conditioned reflex and fear. Remember that for years, answering the calls of the Revolution had an effect on your quality of life and career. If you were not very Revolutionary and often didn’t attend such concentrations, then forget about winning a Russian Krim 218 black-and-white TV, a Minsk refrigerator, a Lada 2105 car, and even an apartment in Alamar.

When filling out forms to get an important job, in addition to writing a detailed biography where you should highlight your loyalty to the regime, you had to recount the marches you had attended.

In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things changed. And between the exhaustion of power and the disgust of the citizenry for a chaotic administration and an economy unable to make toothpicks, people just grumbled at the partying revolutionaries.

Fidel Castro abused those baths of the masses. Up to ten or twelve a year in Havana or in the capitals of provinces. Whether it was the first of May, to receive the remains of Che Guevara or demand the return of Elián González.

Those days they paralyzed the country. Public transport stopped working after midnight and the workers and employees were paid their full wages. They also suspended classes at all levels of education.

Many workers and students loved the marching soldiers. They could slip out of the crowd and go home to take a nap.

There are no statistics collected of many engagements and marriages were forged in those proletarian festivities. Amid shouts and chants, men made towers of rum or brandy bottles that came in plastic. Or homemade wine. Or 90 proof alcohol with water. Anything to change the body to endure hours of standing in the terrifying sun.

Since hand-picked General Raul Castro took the throne, July 31, 2006, public events decreased quantitatively. Castro II knows the millions of pesos wasted in all these concentrations convened by his brother. Mobilizations, the minimum. The key dates. The first of May or the July 26, dates of the autocracy that have become a tradition.

If the country is visited by a distinguished personage, he entertains them with a bath of the masses. So the organizing committee responsible for giving a monumental welcome Pope Benedict XVI is oiling the machinery.

Schools and workplaces are ready to welcome the pope when he arrives in Havana, after canonizing the Virgin of Charity in El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba. Rene, and phone company engineer, says the union and the core of the party within the company are calling on workers. Some allege personal problems for not attending, others say they hold a religious doctrine contrary to that preached by Benedict XVI.

“Although most people think they’ll go. Some out of faith. Others because they believe that this visit may mark a before and after. Of course, many of us who go to welcome the Pope in the capital, will subtly desert and go home to watch it on television,” he says.

The papal visit has aroused wide register of opinions in Cuba: indifference and applause, reviews and dislikes in a sector of the opposition and Afro-Cuban religions, because the Holy Father is scheduled to meet with them.

Whether Benedict XVI’s visit will make history, as his predecessor John Paul II’s did, remains to be seen. But you can be assured that this Vicar of Christ will be treated to a bath of masses. And sound. As only a regime that has made the public acts a registered trademark knows how.

From his Popemobile and in the two masses he will officiate in Cuba, the Pope will see hundreds of thousands people. While on the island only 10% of the population practices Catholicism. One detail that the German pope should not overlook.

Photo: Reuters. Preparations in the Revolution Square in Havana, where Benedict XVI will give a Mass on Wednesday 28 March. Taken from Martí News. The Pope will arrive on Monday March 26 in Santiago de Cuba and say Mass in the Antonio Maceo Square in that city. The next day, Tuesday 27, he will visit to the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre in the Sanctuary.

March 18 2012