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New Publication: CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

William LeoGrande, Guest Co-editor; Arien Mack, Journal Editor

TABLE OF CONTENTS

William M. Leogrande, Introduction: Cuba Looks to the Future                235

 

PART I: UPDATING THE ECONOMY

Ricardo Torres Pérez, Updating the Cuban Economy: The First 10 Years                                                                                                                            255

Archibald R.M. Ritter,   Private and Cooperative Enterprise in Cuba’s Economic Future                                                                                                                           277

Richard E. Feinberg,  Bienvenida—Maybe: Cuba’s Gradual Opening to World Markets                                                                                                                          305

Katrin Hansing,  Race and Inequality in the New Cuba: Reasons, Dynamics, and Manifestations                                                                                                               331

 

PART II: FACING POLITICAL CHALLENGES

William M. Leogrande,  Updating Cuban Socialism: The Politics of Economic Renovation                                                                                                                     353

Margaret E. Crahan, Cuba: Religion and Civil Society                                          383

Rafael Hernández, Intellectuals, Civil Society, and Political Power in Cuban Socialism  407

Ted A. Henken, Cuba’s Digital Millennials: Independent Digital Media and Civil Society on the Island of the Disconnected                                                                                     429

 

PART III: ENGAGING THE WORLD

 

Philip Brenner And Teresa Garcia Castro,  A Long Legacy of Distrust and the Future of Cuban-US Relations                                                                                                    459

Carlos Oliva Campos And Gary Prevost,  Cuba’s Relations with Latin America   487

Mervyn J. Bain, Havana, Moscow, and Beijing: Looking to the Future in the Shadow of the Past                                                                                                                                          507

 

 

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WHEN FRANCIS CAME TO CUBA

By Carlos Eire

Carlos Eire is the T. L. Riggs Professor of Catholic Studies at Yale University.

Original article here: When Francis Came to Cuba, 

From “First Things” (“America’s most influential journal of religion and  public life”), October 25, 2015

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASSWe should cheer any time a pope mingles with sinners. It’s what Jesus did, and what his vicar on earth is supposed to do, too. Sin and evil need to be confronted, not ignored, and those who are unjust should be urged to repent and mend their ways. Unfortunately, there is little to cheer about when it comes to the mingling Pope Francis did with the Castro brothers in Cuba, and with other heads of state in Latin America who praise and emulate their dictatorship. Pope Francis seems much too comfortable with Latin American dictators and with their symbols of repression.

A few months ago, when he visited Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis mingled with presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, avowed disciples of Fidel and Raul Castro with tyrannical tendencies, but he refrained from speaking about their human rights abuses. He also received a blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix from Evo Morales and accepted this gift with a smile. What if that crucifix had been in the shape of a swastika rather than a hammer and sickle?

That incident was a portent of things to come in Cuba, where Pope Francis has smiled his way through meetings with blood-soaked tyrants and failed to speak out about human rights abuses on the island, or to challenge the cruelty of his hosts. Pope Francis also failed to meet with any of Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, despite their urgent pleas for an encounter. This is not so much the “preferential option for the poor” as the preferential option for oppressors.

Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino explained this approach by saying that the Catholic Church in Cuba had to avoid “partisan politics.” This is the same prince of the Church who has called for the arrest of asylum-seeking dissidents in his churches, and in April of 2012, at Harvard University, ridiculed these persecuted Cubans as “former delinquents” and “people with psychological disturbances” who lacked “any cultural level.” Despite his frequent calls for “reconciliation,” Ortega has referred to Cuban exiles as “gusanos” (worms or maggots), the unchristian epithet that the Castro regime has applied to all its opponents for over half a century.

The papal entourage eventually decided to give in to the dissidents’ pleas for a meeting at the last minute, as an afterthought, but the results were predictably disastrous. When some democracy advocates were suddenly and unexpectedly invited to meet with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana all of them were arrested as soon as they left their homes. In addition, many other non-violent dissidents were rounded up or placed under house arrest, to prevent them from attending the pope’s open-air Mass. Meanwhile, the Castro regime sent busloads of its own hand-picked supporters to the papal Mass, to ensure that Pope Francis would have a sufficiently large audience of politically-correct Cubans. Worst of all, the selection process for those who were crammed into those buses was vetted at the parish level by the Cuban Catholic Church, and approved by its bishops.

When four dissidents somehow managed to get close to Pope Francis, despite the efforts of church and state to keep all such Cubans away from him, they were quickly attacked by plain-clothed state security agents and whisked away to prison. Has Pope Francis denounced these injustices, which amount to religious persecution? Has he voiced concern over the compliance of his bishops in this persecution? No. Not a word. His silence is deafening.

The Holy Father’s homily on Sunday, in Havana, focused on the vulnerable members of society, and it could have been delivered anywhere on earth. His sermon was full of beautiful sentiments, but there was very little in it about Cuba, and nothing whatsoever about the oppression, vulnerability, and poverty of the Cuban people. This sermon displayed none of the sharp-edged subtlety favored by his own Jesuit order. It was far too subtle. So subtle, in fact, that only someone with a doctoral degree in theology, rhetoric, or political science might be able to detect any reference to injustice in it.

As Newsweek has observed, seventeen years ago in his homily in Havana, John Paul II mentioned “freedom” seventeen times and “justice” thirteen times. In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once. All that Francis said about Cubans was that they are “a people which has its wounds, like every other people.” In other words, Francis told Cubans that they are no worse off than any other people on earth after fifty-six years of economic and political repression, and that they really have nothing to complain about. The closest he came to upbraiding the Castro regime or to calling for an end to the enslavement of the Cuban people was to say: “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”

Ironically, dictator Raúl Castro had just greeted Pope Francis at the airport with a long speech that had less to do with his visit than with praising the failed ideology that has made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive nations on earth. “Preserving socialism is tantamount to securing independence, sovereignty, development and the well being of our nation,” said dictator Raúl.

In his long-winded speech, Raúl Castro strung together a series of lies that have yet to be challenged by the Pope or by anyone at the Vatican. Emboldened by the pope’s overt approval of his regime, made manifest in their meeting in Rome this past spring, the octogenarian dictator boasted: “We have founded an equitable society with social justice and extensive access to culture, attached to traditions and to the most advanced ideas of Cuba, Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.”

As if this were not cheeky enough, the unelected and unchallenged “president” Raúl Castro also claimed that he was committed to building “a prosperous and sustainable socialism focused on human beings and the family, and with the free, democratic, conscious and creative involvement of the entire society.”

Fine things to say, especially for someone who is responsible for driving out into exile twenty percent of his country’s population, breaking apart millions of families, and stifling all dissent and all access to outside sources of information. The Holy Father had nothing to say about these lies then or afterward.

Sadly, however, he did have something nice to say to the oppressors. According to Granma, the top official newspaper of that regime, in a private meeting Francis “thanked comrade Fidel Castro for his contributions to world peace in a world saturated with hate and aggression.” If this is indeed true, Francis has overlooked the history of a consistently violent government, one of the very few to have brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and the only one in Latin America to have sent troops to three continents and to have sponsored warfare and terrorism around the globe, and to have consistently called for the extermination of Israel.

What is any Catholic to make of this? Why has Pope Francis chosen to side with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed?

God only knows. Perhaps he wants to win favor with the Castro regime so that the Catholic Church in Cuba can avoid the persecution experienced by Protestant evangelical churches on that island? Perhaps he knows that most popes who have locked horns with secular rulers have ended up losing way too much? Perhaps he is taking a cautious Jesuit approach of the sort taken by his order in seventeenth-century China? Perhaps he knows that the Catholic Church has always thought of change in terms of decades, centuries, and millennia rather than days, weeks, months, or years? Or perhaps he likes what he sees in Cuba and genuinely admires its unelected rulers? His reasoning is immaterial. What matters most is that his smiling silence and his joviality in the company of ruthless oppressors is immensely dismaying.

Pope Francis is not exactly the silent type when it comes to social, political, or economic issues. When he thinks something is wrong, he lets the world know, as he has just done in his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he champions environmentalism and excoriates materialist consumerism. A few months ago, in Bolivia, he spoke of “the unfettered pursuit of money” as nothing less than “the dung of the devil.”

So, why is it that he refrained from calling the Castro regime and other such failed experiments in materialist totalitarian communism “the dung of the devil”? Is communist materialism any less fiendish? Is communist political and economic repression any less reprehensible? Why didn’t he call Raúl and Fidel Castro to repentance? Why did he praise them instead?

We’d like to know why.

But who are “we,” and why are “we” so impertinent, you ask?

Here is who “we” are: we who have been unjustly abused by the Castro regime, who have seen our nation ruined, who have had our relatives tortured and killed, who have seen our families torn apart by imprisonments and exile, who have been denied the right to express ourselves freely, who have been subjected to atheist indoctrination and had our right to worship denied. In brief: we who know from first-hand experience that to live in Cuba is to be a slave.

We could provide a much longer list of injustices endured for the past fifty-six years, but what would be the use? For now, all we Cuban Catholics can do is acknowledge the fact that the first pope, Saint Peter, made many, many mistakes, and that none of his successors have been infallible when it comes to politics. And we can take comfort in praying along with an innumerable throng of Christians who stretch all the way back to first century: Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

CUBA-POPE-VISIT-MASS pope

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POPE FRANCIS FACES DIPLOMATIC TEST ON CUBA TRIP

Marc Frank in Havana, James Politi in Rome and John Paul Rathbone in London

As a parish priest in poor areas of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was so struck by Pope John Paul II’s 1998 trip to Cuba that he wrote a book about it. The work, Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro, was published in Argentina shortly after he became archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Almost 20 years later, the book’s author, who has now become Pope Francis, will make his first visit to Cuba, arriving in Havana on Saturday for a four-day visit before heading to the US.

For the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff, the trip will cap his role helping to broker the thaw in US-Cuban relations, which could lead to an end to the half-century trade embargo. The visit will also test the pope’s diplomatic skills: he will seek to proselytise a universal message of helping the poor, while pushing the socialist government of President Raúl Castro to increase its reforms and give a greater role to the Church.

“In the fast-approaching era of no US embargo, Castro can no longer argue that the revolution needs its restrictive laws,” said Paul Hare, former UK ambassador to Havana, now professor of government at Boston University. “Pope Francis helped to usher in this new era and it is one where the Church will ask increasingly probing questions . . . He wants to launch a new battle of ideas.”

The subtlety of that battle of ideas is foreshadowed by the pope’s early Cuban thoughts. Although, as pontiff, he has criticised capitalism and the unfettered pursuit of money as “the dung of evil”, in his book he called for “corrupt, dictatorial and authoritarian governments” to be replaced by democracy.

Francis, a Jesuit, also harshly criticised socialism and, by extension, Fidel Castro’s atheist revolution for denying individuals their “transcendent dignity”.

“Castro may have become a Marxist, but don’t forget he was educated by Jesuits before that, so you may need a Jesuit to bring him round,” said Jimmy Burns, a former Financial Times correspondent and author of a new biography of Francis, The Pope of Good Promise.

Still, few expect strong criticism during the pope’s sermons, which are expected to be live-streamed on state-controlled media. “These matters can be dealt with without doing so in a big way; discretion can be more effective,” said Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

Late last week, as a “humanitarian gesture”, the Castro government pardoned 3,522 prisoners, although it does not appear that these included any political detainees. Havana made similar moves before John Paul II’s trip and Pope Benedict’s 2012 visit.

Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, signalled this week that the Obama administration was unhappy with Havana’s progress on human rights. “#Cuba sending exactly the wrong signal in advance of @Pontifex visit by detaining @DamasdBlanco for marching in street,” she tweeted, referring to the dissident group Ladies In White.

Dissidents have asked to meet the pope, but no meetings are currently on his agenda.  Mr Burns believes that the pope will make “some reference” for Cuba to “respect human rights”. If not, it could damage his image, even before he lands in the US.

Although Cuba remains a one-party state, much has changed for the Church since John Paul’s visit. Christmas and Good Friday are again national holidays, and believers are no longer stigmatised. Today, the Church is the island’s only leading institution outside state control.

One price paid for this greater space, though, is criticism for being too accommodating with the government. Raúl Castro is expected to be at Francis’s side during the trip; although a self-professed atheist, the 84-year-old leader was so impressed by Francis during a May visit to the Vatican that he said he was considering returning to the Church.

Francis will lead his first service on Sunday in Havana’s Revolution Square at an altar flanked by images of revolutionary heroes including Che Guevara.  His trip will end in eastern Cuba at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint.

In the build-up to the trip, Cuban cardinal Jaime Ortega gave a 45-minute TV interview, and state TV on Thursday night ran a video message to the Cuban people from Francis.

Meanwhile, in the central Camagüey province, Cuba’s most Catholic community, pictures of the pope have been posted on doors, and the Communist party has been helping to organise bus transport to masses.

“Everything . . . is well-organised,” said retired nursing professor Anaida Morales.  “People have a lot of expectations and hope because every time a pope comes there is some positive change . . . Look, they have freed some prisoners,” she added.

Most Cubans have more realistic expectations about what Francis might achieve. He can fix some “little things here and there”, said Nuris Lopez, the 23-year-old owner of a beauty salon in Granma province.

 zApostolic Nunciature of the Holy See (Vatican City) in Havana, Cuba

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 The Cathedral

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WHAT DOES THE POPE’S VISIT MEAN FOR CUBA?

Ted Piccone, Brookings Institute, | September 18, 2015 12:30pm

The leaders of three odd bedfellows are coming together this week: a 2,000-year old global institution known as a defender of the status quo, a 239-year old revisionist democratic superpower, and a 56-year old Communist revolutionary regime. How will they move the needle toward change? We are about to find out.

Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba this week—followed immediately by a meeting with President Barack Obama on the pontiff’s first-ever trip to the United States and President Raúl Castro’s inaugural appearance at the United Nations General Assembly shortly thereafter—together offer a compelling sequence of events that can move mountains. Or at least a few boulders from the thorny path of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Roll out the tickertape 

Let’s start with the Holy Father’s visit to Cuba, an island he knows remotely through his many years of service as a leading Latin American bishop and his book on Pope John Paul II’s dialogue with Fidel Castro in 1998. The hugely popular pope arrives in Cuba as an agent of change in at least two ways: as a promoter of religious freedom and a more activist church that is already providing critical social services to Cuba’s downtrodden citizens; and as a key facilitator of the breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations announced last December.

In the former, Pope Francis builds on the earlier groundwork of Popes John Paul II and Benedict who devoted time and energy to restoring—gradually and incompletely—the place of religious faith in Cuban society. Their man in Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, whose non-confrontational approach has won both critics and fans, has played a critical role in bridging the yawning church-state divide and negotiating the release of over 150 political prisoners.

The Pope’s role as “guarantor” of the normalization process between Cuba and the United States, particularly its human rights elements, helps give the White House some political space to push Congress to lift the embargo even in the face of Cuba’s often violent harassment of opposition figures. The Pope also brings an overwhelmingly positive message of reconciliation among all Cubans on and off the island and a humanistic approach to the excessive depredations of both communism and capitalism. The visit should inject another wave of enthusiasm and hope around the possibilities of gradual but positive change on the island.

The embargo thorn

For the Castro regime, the Pope’s visit is another perceived endorsement of Cuba’s standing as a country that punches well above its weight in international affairs. A longstanding critic of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, the Vatican will help Cuba remind the world that the United States should not only unconditionally end the embargo, but pay up for the all the damages it has caused.

In case the point is missed on anyone, Cuba this week launched its annual campaign for yet another vote at the United Nations this fall condemning the embargo. The vote may not look as lopsided as previous years if other governments choose to endorse the olive branch Obama has extended to Havana. The Pope himself is unlikely to inject himself in the middle of this fight.

 A conversion to more Christian treatment of civil society and free expression looks frustratingly unlikely, despite the Pope’s quiet entreaties.

But his speech to the U.S. Congress on September 24, another first for any pope, offers an irresistible opportunity to call upon legislators to consider, in at least moral terms, the benefits of engagement and reconciliation over isolation and punishment, a point that would fit in nicely with his theme of mercy and forgiveness. The same message, of course, ought to apply to the Cuban government and its heavy-handed treatment of its own citizens. Raúl Castro’s gushing comments of someday returning to the Catholic Church suggests he gets the importance of religiosity in various forms to Cuban society (evangelicalism, Santeria, and Catholicism, among others). But a conversion to more Christian treatment of civil society and free expression looks frustratingly unlikely in the short term, despite the Pope’s quiet entreaties.

In search of positive legacies and soft landings

For President Obama, the big bet to normalize relations with Cuba is shaping up to be a positive legacy the White House will go to some lengths to protect. It is already proving highly popular among Americans of all persuasions and even more popular in Cuba itself. The initial enthusiasm he received—including by other heads of state at the Panama Summit of the Americas last April—has carried the ball forward at a steady clip, as embassies reopened in both capitals this summer and talks proceed to improve bilateral cooperation on several fronts.

With the latest announcement of another round of unilateral measures by Obama to expand travel, remittances, and telecommunications, and trade with Cuba’s emerging private sector, the reality that only Congress can fully lift the embargo is sinking in, and starting to get more attention. As Obama told a business audience on September 16: “my biggest suggestion would be for [the business community] just to start having a conversation on a bipartisan basis about lifting the embargo.” He went on to say, however, that it shouldn’t happen “all in one fell swoop.”

It won’t. With competing bills in Congress for and against weakening or lifting the embargo, and nearly all Republican presidential candidates aligned against such a move, no one should expect any reversion, sudden or otherwise, to a pre-Castro era.

Which is precisely where the three main actors on the stage—the Pope, Raúl Castro, and Barack Obama—want to be: positioned as agents of gradual but positive change. They all hope for a soft landing for a nation transitioning from decades of trauma and triumph to a more stable, open, and—perhaps—more “normal” future.

yFidel and Pope John Paul, 1998

POPE, PRESIDENT CASTRO GESTURE OUTSIDE PALACE OF REVOLUTION IN HAVANARaul and Pope Benedict XVI, 2012

Image: Pope Francis meets Cuban President Raul Castro at the VaticanRaul and Pope Francis, May 2015

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THE CHURCH, POPE FRANCIS, AND CUBA

Raul-Castro-Pope-FrancisWorld Affairs Journal September/October Issue, 2015.

José Azel

Eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta laid the foundations for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler.

King John of England, who signed this great document, believed that since he governed by divine right, there were no limits on his authority. But his need for money outweighed this principle and he acceded to his barons’ demand to sign the document limiting his powers, in exchange for their help.

King John then appealed to Pope Innocent III who promptly declared the Magna Carta to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” and deemed the charter to be “null and void of all validity forever.” Thus from the beginning of the conflict between individual rights and unlimited authority, the Church sided with authority. It is a position that, with notable exceptions has, and continues to characterize the conduct of Church-State affairs.

In 1929, the Holy See signed with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government the Lateran Treaty which recognized the Vatican as an independent state. In exchange for the Pope’s public support, Mussolini also agreed to provide the Church with financial backing.

In 1933, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) signed on behalf of Pope Pius XI, the Reich Concordat to advance the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. The treaty predictably gave moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime and constrained the political activism of the German Catholic clergy which had been critical of Nazism. Similarly, advancing the Church’s interests in Cuba is the explanation given for the Church’s hierarchy coziness with the Castro regime.

For most of us the Catholic Church is simply a religion, but the fact is that it is also a state with its own international politico-economic interests and views. It is hard to discern the defense of any moral or religious principles in the above historic undertakings of the Church-State.

These doings of the Church, as a state in partnership with authoritarian rule, are in sharp contrast with the Biblical rendition, where Christ was persecuted for his political views by a tyrannical regime acting in complicity with the leadership of His church. Cubans today are also politically persecuted by a tyrannical regime. The question arises as to whether the leadership of the Catholic Church will side with the people or with the Castro regime.

Pope Francis probably, was not thinking of Magna Carta, the Lateran Treaty or the Reich Concordat, when he warmly received General Raul Castro in the Vatican earlier this spring, and he probably won’t be thinking about that foundational document for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler or how the medieval Church spurned it when he travels to Cuba in September. But the questions of the Vatican’s support for authoritarianism and the Pope’s political ideology will be in the background of his visit nonetheless.

In political terms, Pope Francis is himself the head of an authoritarian state -an oligarchical theocracy where only the aristocracy -the Princes of the College of Cardinals- participate in the selection of the ruler. Most religions do not follow a democratic structure, but the Catholic Church is unique in that it is also a state recognized by international law.

Pope Francis may seem to be sailing against the winds of this structure in some of his carefully publicized “iconoclasms,” but clues he has left as to his political and economic thought regarding Cuba show someone very comfortable with certain status quos.

In 1998, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pope was then known, authored a book titled: “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro.” In my reading of the Pope’s complex Spanish prose, he favors socialism over capitalism provided it incorporates theism. He does not take issue with Fidel Castro’s claim that “Karl Marx’s doctrine is very close to the Sermon on the Mount,” and views the Cuban polity as in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine.

Following Church tradition he severely condemns U.S. economic sanctions, but Pope Francis goes much further. He uses Cuba’s inaccurate and politically charged term “blockade” and echoes the Cuban government’s allegations about its condign evil. He then criticizes free markets, noting that “neoliberal capitalism is a model that subordinates human beings and conditions development to pure market forces…thus humanity attends a cruel spectacle that crystalizes the enrichment of the few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many.” (Author’s translation)

In his prologue to “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Monsignor Bergoglio leaves no doubt that he sympathizes with the Cuban dictatorship and that he is not a fan of liberal democracy or free markets. He clearly believes in a very large, authoritarian role for the state in social and economic affairs. Perhaps, as many of his generation, the Pope’s understanding of economics and governance was perversely tainted by Argentina’s Peronist trajectory and the country’s continued corrupt mixture of statism and crony capitalism.

His language in the prologue is reminiscent of the “Liberation Theology” movement that developed in Latin America in the 1960’s and became very intertwined with Marxist ideology. Fathered by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, the liberation theology movement provided the intellectual foundations that, with Cuban support, served to orchestrate “wars of national liberation” throughout the continent. Its iconography portrayed Jesus as a guerrilla with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI censured Liberation Theology, but after Pope Francis met with father Gutierrez in 2013 in “a strictly private visit,” L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, published an essay stating that with the election of the first pope from Latin America Liberation Theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years…”

The political ideology of the Argentinian Monsignor Bergoglio may not have been of any transcendental significance. But as Pope Francis, he is now the head of a state with defined international political and economic interests. These state-interests and personal ideology will be in full display in his upcoming visit to Cuba and the United States.

In “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Pope Francis speaks of a “shared solidarity” but, as with Pope Innocent III’s rejection of the Magna Carta, that solidarity appears to be with the nondemocratic illegitimate authority in Cuba and not with the people. This is a tragic echo of the Cuban wars for independence when the Church sided with the Spanish Crown and not with the Cuban “mambises” fighting for freedom. No wonder that when Cuba gained its independence, many Cubans saw the Church as an enemy of the new nation.

In his September visit Pope Francis will have a chance to reverse this history and unequivocally put the Church on the side of the people, especially with the black and mulatto majority in the Island. If he does not, history will judge him as unkindly as it has Innocent III. When the Castros’ tropical gulag finally fades into the past, Cubans will remember that this Pope had a choice between freedom and authoritarianism, just as his predecessor did eight hundred years ago, and picked the wrong side.

Azel_Jose4_

José Azel is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”

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Cuba: Dramatic increase in religious freedom violations in 2012

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Voice for the Voiceless; January 3, 201; [CSW is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice. ]

Original Article here: Cuba: Religious Freedom Violations in 2012

Ladies in White in Plaza de la Catedral

CSW has called on the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, to ensure that significant improvements are made in upholding religious freedom in 2013 after recording a dramatic increase in violations across the country as the government cracked down on religious organisations and individuals.

Church leaders in different parts of the country reported ongoing violations in the final weeks of the year. An unregistered Protestant church affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in Camaguey was threatened with demolition on 29 December. The following day, nine women affiliated with the Ladies in White movement in Holguin were arrested in the early hours of the morning and held in prison until Sunday morning Mass had ended.

CSW documented 120 reported cases of religious freedom in 2012, up from a total of 30 in 2011, some of which involved entire churches and denominations and hundreds of people. The number does not include the men and women who were arrested and imprisoned for the duration of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in March which local human rights groups estimate to be upwards of 200.

While Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities, other denominations and religious groups were also affected.  Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches in different parts of the country reported consistent harassment and pressure from state security agents. Additionally, government officials continued to refuse to register some groups, including the fast-growing Protestant network the “Apostolic Movement”, threatening affiliated churches with closure, and shut down a Mormon church in Havana which had been denied official recognition.  One of the most severe cases involved the violent beating of Pentecostal pastor, Reutilio Columbie, in Moa, early in the year. Pastor Columbie suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the beating which he believes to have been orchestrated by local Communist Party officials. To date, no investigation into the beating has been carried out.

There were some improvements in the exercise of religious freedom inside Cuban prisons, however, even these were marred by government interference. A number of Protestant members of the clergy, appointed by their respective denominations to carry out prison ministry, were arbitrarily denied permission to join prison ministry teams. In addition, in the Provincial Youth Prison in Santa Clara only fourteen prisoners were permitted to participate in Christmas services. Forty prisoners, all practicing Christians, had requested permission to do so.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said:

“We are deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration in religious freedom over the past year in Cuba. Despite promises of privileges to some religious groups, Sunday after Sunday the government continues to violate the most basic of rights: the right to freely participate in religious services and form part of a religious community without interference.  Unregistered religious groups and registered groups that have resisted government pressure have come under intense pressure, been subjected to harassment and in the worst cases come under physical attack or seen their buildings confiscated. The Cuban government’s claims of reform and respect for human rights cannot be taken seriously unless these violations are addressed and real protections for religious freedom for all put in place. We urge Raul Castro to make this a priority of the government in 2013.”

Standing Room Only at the Door. This is the Methodist Church close to the University of Havana, the name of which I have forgotten. In contrast to the pockets of white hair one sees in many Canadian churches, this is close to a sea of black hair.

Virgen de la Merced;

Photos by Arch Ritter, 2010-2011

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The Right to Speak About God in Cuba

By Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: 
For years I had a hard time deciding between writing, painting or dancing. It was writing that proved to make the most sense financially in the short term. I live in Alamar, an aborted project for a city that only breathes from what’s left of nature, from the alternative cultural and political scene, and above all, from the infinite will of the human soul. I’m not a journalist. Writing in HT has been an opportunity to say what I believe can be improved in Cuba

HAVANA TIMES — The question posed by Havana Times contributor Jose Iser (in “Quien se atreve a romper el tabu?”), concerning the tacit ban on playing of Christian music over the Cuban airwaves, started to “pick at one of my old scabs” (meaning it’s one of those sore points that never really heals because there’s no real cure or solution).

The author of the article believes that this avoidance by the media reflects more than fear, but “a prejudice, a bias, or — better yet — an aversion.” I would love to accompany him in that line of thought, but I have a hunch things aren’t so simple.

Even those freedoms that he says are afforded to us by the constitution, at least in my direct experience, can be quite relative.

Legal research would have to be done on that point, but more than anything, taking into account concrete facts would have to also accompany this because the responses from lawyers don’t necessarily reflect practical reality.

In 1995, for instance, I personally accompanied a Mexican friend to Radio Taino, where he hoped to speak about and promote yoga meditation. The journalist who conducted the interview was petrified that words like “God” or “soul” or “spirit” might creep into the discussion.

This fear was because any one of those terms — according to what he told us to our faces — could have cost him his job.

In lecture halls where my friend gave presentations, similar warnings were made to us. However after the visit by Pope John Paul II, one has to admit that significant changes were made in this regard.

On Cuban TV itself, for example, there began to appear films with philosophical postulates and even explicitly mystical ones.

But a sudden relaxation doesn’t mean no pressure exists. I don’t buy into the widespread theory that many limitations in Cuba are suffered due to bureaucratic inertia. If this inertia exists it’s because it’s sustained and nurtured from the top of the pyramid.

I share the opinion of my fellow writer about the urgent need to expand musical alternatives, because the current bombardment of reggaeton isn’t only alarming, it’s stifling. What’s more, the degenerative effects of its lyrics are painfully palpable.

A Biblical passage reads: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Relatedly, whenever I’m riding in a collective taxi or on a bus, I’m bound to hear: “If they stick it in, weep, if they take it out, yell”, or “I like to do it with my leg in the air” or “when I start feeling whorish.”

These thoughts make me wonder if those are the sincere concerns of many people or whether these are unconscious feelings engendered by compulsion, inertia, apathy, or rebelliousness.

This isn’t even about getting into a tiff over whether or not those words are should be censored. It’s an indisputable fact that people have the right to disseminate alternative thought.

I fully agree that Christian music should be heard on the radio, but I would go further and ask: Why don’t they de-penalize not only songs inspired by Christ, but all devotional expressions inspired by Gods, whether focused on Jesus or Buddha or Krishna or Mohammed.

All of them are beings that have radiated spirituality into this world or are spontaneous expressions of the recognition of that truth – from the subjective perspective of the author.

This void felt by those of us interested in that subject, or let’s call it this gag that has been forced on some of us creators who have filtered our anxieties and findings in the search for God, is a need that is as objective as the legalization of political dissent or homosexual marriage.

I know musicians who don’t try to camouflage their belief in God in their work with any metaphors. They believe in God, even without confining themselves to any specific religion or creed. This, I stress, I don’t see as a particular merit but merely as a choice.

What comes to mind right now mind is a couple I met years ago, Maricarmen and Ramsay, who no longer live in Cuba, as well as the reggae group “Estudiante sin semilla” or the young rapper David of the Omni project, who this year organized a concert in Alamar paying tribute to Marcus Garvey, who’s considered one of the ideologues of the Rastafarian movement.

While I enjoyed the concert, I thought about all those people unaware of the event, which would have been an attractive alternative even for youth. I’m talking about music whose benefit doesn’t detract in the least from what’s already officially broadcasted.

So now who’s willing to step up to the plate? With a medium as controlled as the radio it’s not the program directors or managers who have the real authority to decide what crosses the line and requires censorship.

Even a supervisor can see a contradiction between this absolute avoidance of Christian music while promoting themes praising deities of the Yoruba religion, ones such as Chango, Obatala, Yemaya… which in their opinion, if there’s a law it is not equitable but is instead discriminatory.

But to generate debate and initiate legal research on the issue — demanding that attention be given for once and for all to this great omission that many of us have suffered — is already a decisive step, in my opinion.

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Communications, Social, Cultural, Religion

Internet

Yoani Sánchez, “The Making of Generation Y” translated by Ted Henken on his Blog El Yuma, January 19, 2010

Carlos Lauría and María Salazar Ferro, Special Report: Chronicling Cuba, bloggers offer fresh hope, Committee to Protect Journalists, September 10, 2009

Carlos Lauría y María Salazar Ferro, Video Report: Cuban Bloggers,September 10, 2009

Martha Santos, “Blogueando desde la Revolución”, El número de blogs cercanos a la visión oficial crece. Sus autores, al parecer, no tienen restricciones para pasar tiempo frente a la computadora y navegar, Cubaencuentro, 16 de Junio de 2009.

Migration/Emigración

Editorial, “La emigración: Un fenómeno alarmante”, Vitral, Pinar del Rio, Febrero de 2009

Editorial, “La emigración: Un fenómeno alarmante”, Vitral, Pinar del Rio, Febrero de 2009

Ángela Casañas, “LA EMIGRACIÓN DE PROFESIONALES DESDE EL PAÍS QUE LA EMITE. EL CASO CUBANO”, Aldea Mundo • Revista sobre Fronteras e Integración Año 11, No. 22 / Noviembre 2006 – Abril 2007

Sergio Díaz-Briquets, “CUBAN GLOBAL EMIGRATION AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY: OVERALL ESTIMATE AND SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EMIGRANT POPULATION”, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2006

Daniel J. Perez-Lopez, CUBANS IN THE ISLAND AND IN THE U.S. DIASPORA: SELECTED DEMOGRAPHIC AND SOCIAL COMPARISONS, Cuba in Transition, ASCE 2006

Social/Sociales

Juan Francisco Tejera Concepción, EL PROBLEMA DEL ENVEJECIMIENTO EN CUBA, Contribuciones a las Ciencias Sociales, Diciembre 2008

Víctor Fowler Calzada, Jesús Guanche, Rodrigo Espina Prieto, Alejandro de la Fuente y Tomás Fernández Robaina, ¿EXISTE UNA PROBLEMÁTICA RACIAL EN CUBA? Espacio Laical, DOSSIER, 11 Junio, 2009

Jorge Luis Acanda González, profesor de la Universidad de La Habana, “DINÁMICAS DE LA SOCIEDAD CIVIL EN CUBA”, ENFOQUES, Primera Quincena No. 3 Enero de 2008

Esteban Morales Domínguez (Universidad de lLa Habana), “Desafíos de la problemática racial en Cuba”, Temas, no. 56: 95-99, octubre-diciembre de 2008.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Social and economic problems in Cuba during the crisis and subsequent recovery, CEPAL Review, Nº 86, August 2005

Joseph S. Tulchin, Lilian Bobea, Mayra P. Espina Prieto, Rafael Hernández, with Elizabeth Bryan, “CHANGES IN CUBAN SOCIETY SINCE THE NINETIES”, The Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, 2005

Lygia Navarro, “Tropical Depression in Cuba”, Virginia Quarterly Review, May-June 2009, from the UTNE Reader

Jorge A. Sanguinetty, LAS RUINAS INVISIBLES DE UNA SOCIEDAD: DESTRUCCIÓN Y
EVOLUCIÓN DEL CAPITAL SOCIAL EN CUBA, Cuba in Transition
, ASCE 2005


Religion/Religiosos

Dagoberto Valdés, La libertad de la Luz, Revista Vitra, “A collection of editorials published by in the Cuban Catholic journal ‘Vitral’ 1994-2009”, Diócesis de Pinar del Río, Cuba


Urbanization/Urbanizacion

Video: The City of Havana in the ’30s

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