14ymedio, Havana, 1 September 2023 — On Thursday, Catholic priest Alberto Reyes accused the Communist Party of Esmeralda, a town in Camaguey province, of preventing a procession honoring the Virgin of Charity from taking place on the night of September 8. Without explanation, officials said the event must instead take place at 6:00 PM. “Under the blistering sun and heat,” Reyes noted.
“My idea, and that of the parish council and the Christian community of Esmeralda, was to celebrate mass at night and then follow it with a procession. But that won’t be possible because of the irrevocable decision by the only political party that exists in this country to say no,” he complained.
Reyes emphasized that the government is carefully monitoring “to the millimeter” any activities it finds to be suspicious. He adds that it is also preparing to deploy agents to minutely “keep an eye on” every step in the procession while ignoring the poverty and widespread shortages Cubans are experiencing.
He was also critical of the government’s apparent surprise at the claim that it does not respect religious liberty. He said that authorities often “complain to the bishop” about priests calling the Cuban regime a dictatorship and that and that the public is “bound and gagged.
Reyes admitted he knew the risks of speaking his mind at a time when the party’s decision has left him feeling irritated and powerless.
“The security services get alarmed when people lash out here and there, and shout, ’Fatherland and Life,’ ’Freedom’ and ’Change the system.’ If we as a church cannot even decide when to hold a procession, what hope is there for the public?” he asked.
Official authorization, a requirement for any public event in Cuba, is one of the tools the Communist Party regularly uses to constrain or hinder the work of the Catholic Church. Withholding approval is also frequently used as a means of reprisal against those such as Reyes who are critical of the regime.
Reyes admitted he knew the risks of speaking his mind at a time when the party’s decision left him feeling irritated and powerless. He claimed, however, that this was not going to prevent the procession from taking place.
“The party has spoken, the party has decided, and that decision is final. You either accept it or there is no procession, even if it means having it at a time when the sun and heat are stifling,” he said.
The priest concluded his message by stating that he would pray for the needs of Cubans, for “necessary prosperity” and the “freedom that has not yet come.” He added, “When all this ends (as it certainly will), this church which they persecute today will perhaps be the only thing that protects them from violence and revenge.”
Reyes has been one of the voices within the Catholic church most critical of the Cuban regime. In an interview with 14ymedio in April he said that the island has “no present or future” and that the reelection of Miguel Diaz-Canel as president was a clear symptom of stagnation.
On that occasion, Reyes stated that Cubans had “learned defenselessness” after having been inoculated with fear of the government after its crackdown following the protests of July 11, 2021. In regards to the Cuban Bishops Conference, which has apparently been unsuccessful in negotiating an amnesty for political prisoners despite numerous attempts, Reyes has been clear: “It is neither a charitable organization nor a political party,” and is limited in what it can do.
In their most recent pastoral plan, which sets guidelines for Catholic believers for the coming years, the bishops stated that the island was going through “the most serious crisis in recent decades.” They added, “Food and medicine shortages have reached levels we have never seen before. There is growing inflation and discontent with the additional and significant burden of hopelessness and neglect.”
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