The Cuban Police Prevent ’14ymedio’ From Accessing the Burial of the Bishop Who Challenged Raul Castro

Funeral rites for Pedro Claro Meurice Estiú, former archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. (Facebook/Archbishopric of Santiago)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 July 2023 — Reporter Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía, a collaborator of 14ymedio, was prohibited from entering the cathedral of Santiago de Cuba to attend the funeral mass of Pedro Claro Meurice Estiú, who was archbishop of that city. The remains of the priest, who died in 2011 in Miami, were transferred this Wednesday to the parish in a ceremony that summoned hundreds of people.

“You can’t enter because it’s behind closed doors and you need a credential to be invited,” two agents of the political police told Díaz Echemendía when he tried to approach the church. A strong police presence, with agents in uniform and in civilian clothing, surrounded the church, although the invitation issued by the religious authorities invited the “secular, religious, priests and  people of Santiago de Cuba.”

The two agents, who called themselves Noel and Camilo, told the reporter to return home and not insist on accessing the cathedral. When Díaz Echemendía retraced his steps, in the direction of his home, another policeman pressured him not to take the road through central streets. “I felt very harassed and threatened,” he tells this newspaper.

This Thursday, Díaz Echemendía went to the archbishopric and was able to talk with Prelate Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez, who was surprised by what happened and said that no other person had been required to show a credential to access the church on Wednesday afternoon.

After the mass, the remains of Meurice Estiú, born in 1932 in the eastern town of San Luis and nicknamed “the lion of the East”, were placed in an open cavity on the floor of the Holy Metropolitan Basilica Cathedral Church of Santiago de Cuba, covered with a tombstone on which was written that he was the fourteenth archbishop of the city. The ceremony was broadcast through social networks.

After Meurice’s death in 2011, his remains were transferred from Miami and buried in the Santa Efigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. That funeral was surrounded by a strong police operation, and numerous members of the opposition organization Patriotic Union of Cuba attended, along with its leader José Daniel Ferrer, who is currently in prison.

Many moments and anecdotes are remembered about Meurice Estiú, but none exceeds the mark left by his words on the morning of January 24, 1998 in the Plaza de la Revolución in Santiago in front of thousands of people. There he spoke to Pope John Paul II, visiting the Island, and the then Minister of the Armed Forces, Raúl Castro.

“I also present to you a growing number of Cubans who have confused the homeland with a party, the nation with the historical process that we have experienced in recent decades and culture with an ideology,” said Meurice Estiú in front of a Castro who showed great annoyance on his face at the words of the archbishop, then 66 years old.

At the end, the priest also alluded to the exodus: “They are Cubans who, by rejecting everything at once, without discerning, feel uprooted, reject what is here and overestimate everything foreign. Some consider this to be one of the deepest causes of the internal and external exile.”

With that speech, Meurice Estiú consecrated himself as the most critical voice of the regime at that time within the Cuban Catholic Church, in addition to honoring his career since he was ordained in 1955 and studied canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome. Upon his return, he was appointed vice chancellor and secretary to Archbishop Enrique Pérez Serantes, who saved Fidel Castro’s life after his failure in the assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953.

In 1967, Meurice Estiú was appointed auxiliary bishop of Santiago de Cuba by Pope Paul VI, and, after the death of Serantes, he was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese of Santiago.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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