14ymedio, Havana, 13 May 2021 — An voice uncomfortable for some, necessary for others, the Catholic priest José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre placed himself in the eye of the hurricane when, in 1994, he wrote a public letter to Fidel Castro pointing out that he was responsible for the national disaster. Since then, he has been counseled several times to go into exile and has raised many other storms.
This week he spoke with 14ymedio, hours before traveling to Madrid and after months without being able to leave Trinidad, where he is a parish priest and where he remained trapped in the middle of the pandemic and the economic crisis that Cuba is going through.
14ymedio. In recent months, several priests and Catholic organizations have spoken very critically about the situation in Cuba. Has the time come to raise your voice?
Father José Conrado. They are manifestations of a deep concern that I perceive among the men and women who are at the side of this people. They are voices that must be heard by the country’s authorities, who have a very high share of the responsibility for the extreme situation that the population is experiencing.
14ymedio. The economic crisis and the pandemic have come together in what seems like a “suffocating embrace” for Cubans. Is that feeling shared in the Churches?
Father José Conrado. It is felt everywhere, but above all I have seen it in Trinidad. Covid has aggravated isolation, not being able to move from one place to another, so sometimes we only notice the local responses, but throughout the Island this rise in social temperature is clearly manifesting, to a degree that speaks of the gravity of the moment.
We do not know what is going to happen, but something is going to happen and it will be the responsibility of those who have power in their hands and do not want to allow the people to speak or the country to change towards a climate of freedom, respect and participation. Changes are more and more necessary, as the nation becomes more unlivable and more difficult.
14ymedio. You have spoken of Trinidad, a tourist city that in a short time has become a town in bankruptcy. How do you experience the lack of visitors and the shortage of products?
Father José Conrado. People have reached a very great degree of exasperation. It is a city with a very peculiar history because of the “Escambray clean-up” – a government campaign to kick the insurgents out of the mountains with great force – and where there was enormous repression for years. Right now, in addition, there is a massive presence of State Security and, with all of that, people increasingly speak louder and more clearly. You hear many say that the situation cannot continue like this and that it must be remedied.
14ymedio. Letters, statements and posts on social media from priests and nuns. Will the ecclesiastical authorities also pronounce themselves as they did with the pastoral letter “El amor todo lo espera” (Love waits for all) published in the midst of the crisis of the 1990s?
Father José Conrado. I am waiting for it and I am asking for it. I believe that it will come and I believe that the bishops — who have great love for this people and are good men — will do it. It is becoming more and more necessary for them to speak. They have to speak.
14ymedio. If that happens, do you think the Cuban authorities have the will to listen to them?
Father José Conrado. They are not willing to listen, but they will have to hear.
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