Praying to Ratzinger Between the Bars of the Revolution / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Photo and article from Diario de Cuba
The jail guards had a small battery-operated radio, an obsolete gadget like everything in the Regla police station, on the other side of Havana bay.

The decor of the interrogation rooms was antediluvian, pure Soviet-style political propaganda, with quotes from Fidel Castro stuck to his early icons of the Revolution: the assault on the Moncada Barracks, the landing of the Granma yacht, Che Guevara’s arm in a sling, the wide-brimmed hat of the late Commander Camilo.

The dungeon looked newly renovated, with a certain look of having been straightened up by me, which rendered the neatness in terrifying detail. I felt an inconsolable loneliness in that basement of bars and colossal locks. I had never been imprisoned, I have no criminal record. In fact, this time I was hunted like a wild animal in the street. Without criminal charges against me. Without identification from the commando that kidnapped me (they never told my family or friends). Without legal documents for the arrest, seizure of property, and detention for two days: two days of Pope Benedict XVI in Havana, in a parallel installation of bliss and barbarism (Kafka 100% flush with the Caribbean Sea).

On the morning of Tuesday 29 March, on the eve of the Pope’s Mass at the Plaza of the Revolution, the Cuban capital awoke unhinged by a flood of officers in uniform or civilian clothes. They coagulated traffic. They coerced and captured countless independent journalists, human rights activists, political opponents (as well as beggars and unlicensed vendors). They did so right in the face of the international press correspondents, all concentrated on the altar of Joseph Ratzinger, or perhaps in the facial reactions of President Raul Castro before every subtlety of the papal homily.

From a few days ago, the State telephone companies — ETECSA CUBACEL — were complicit in the operation unofficially called “Vow of Silence” and blocked, without any technical reason, thousands of their users’ lines, without notice or right to compensation. They also cut all the very limited internet service, which in Cuba is the privilege of foreigners and a certain caste of officials.

From the beginning, I stopped eating and drinking water. Nor did I responded too much to the personal provocations of an attorney for State Security, like a character out of the film Minority Report, he wanted to buy time until the Pope took off for the Vatican, charging me with the words, without requiring evidence, “subversive activity” and “public scandal” with “preventative character.” Apparently, H.G. Wells’ time machine Wells retains all its functions intact in the Cold War Museum of Cuban Counterintelligence (or perhaps should be renamed the Cuban Countercitizenry).

Only one small battery radio, a gadget discontinued at the time of Cuban socialism, kept me connected to the world beyond our modern catacombs (the police station is across from the Regla cemetery). So I kept count of the passing hours (it was the world’s most endless night). Thus, already with symptoms of muscle weakness and lack of glucose in the brain, I finally heard the chorus of the only liturgical Mass kidnapped in the history of Catholicism.

It was a sad theater crammed with atheists workers, inspired unions more Stalinist than Marxist-Leninist, not to mention security personnel disguised as Red Cross stretcher-bearers or, who knows, as altar boys. Not even the parishes could choose freely who would attend and who is not among their faithful, as there were “black lists” with names that were promptly thrown under the official buses, which were the gateway to the Plaza of the Revolution: the tribune so often changed into a tribunal, where the blind masses and the Maximum Leader (excommunicated by Rome decades ago) have clamored hysterically for “Death to the traitors.”

When the Mass of His Holiness Benedict XVI seemed it would never end, I knelt instinctively and prayed for release from my cell. Not to God, but to the man Joseph Ratzinger in person. I asked him to abbreviate the stages of his rhetoric, to skip the Eucharistic formalities, and not to delay over the diplomatic greetings between the Catholic and Communist hierarchies, that would not repay the bullying of the Cuban Cardinal’s smile, that the Popemobile leave at top speed from the altar itself directly to Havana International Airport, so as not to commit heresy, I prayed that no Pope ever again accept an invitation to repress the poor people of this or any other country-prison.