TAG | Cardinal Ortega
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in politics
Cross-posted on the Corner:
With the latest crackdown in Cuba showing just how Havana has ‘read’ Obama’s policy shift towards the Castro dictatorship, this new Foreign Affairs article by Victor Gaetan giving some background to the Vatican’s involvement in the deal that was eventually struck makes timely reading.
Here’s an extract (my emphasis added):
In Cuba, in other words, the church is still strong. Havana’s Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino has followed a strategy of reconciliation on the island, avoiding confrontation with the state while winning more independence to carry out the Church’s religious mission. Under Ortega’s 35-year leadership, the Catholic Church, to which about 60 percent of all Cubans belong, has emerged as the only national institution that functions independent of the state.
Still, Ortega was never popular with regime opponents because of his determination to avoid confrontation. While Benedict was in Cuba, Ortega refused to arrange a meeting between the Pope and opposition leaders. Instead, devout Catholic opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Paya found Cuban security surrounding his house to prevent him from attending Benedict’s public Mass. Five months later, Paya was killed in a car accident suspected of being engineered by state agents. No investigation has ever been completed. Although Ortega presided over Paya’s funeral, his family says the cardinal did nothing to protect or promote the democracy movement Paya fostered. Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo, the regime opponent’s daughter, wrote an eloquent critique of the U.S.–Cuba deal in The Washington Post. Many other dissidents are similarly disappointed with the news.
But Ortega likely isn’t losing sleep about this criticism. He has a different vision of Cuba’s future: A few days after Francis was elected, the Havana Archdiocese published a document containing 23 proposals produced by a group, Laboratorio Casa Cuba, comprised of “professors and researchers of diverse ideologies (Catholics, critical Marxists, republican–socialists, and anarchists).” It’s a Christian social–democratic program, with an anti-American cherry on top.
And that seems sort of fine with Pope Francis. Fancy that!
Via the Miami Herald, more on the Pope’s upcoming visit to Cuba:
Nearly 750 Cuban activists have signed a letter to Pope Benedict XVI warning that his planned visit to Cuba will “send a message to the oppressors that they can continue” to abuse Catholic opponents, dissidents reported Thursday.
“We would be very happy to receive you in our country, if the message of faith, love and hope that you could bring us also would serve to halt the repression against those who want to go to church,” the letter said.
It did not directly urge the pontiff to cancel his planned March 26-28 visit to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, but added, “May the Holy Trinity illuminate your mind so that you can make a correct decision.”
The letter was the latest word from those Cuban dissidents who are concerned that the pontiff’s visit will only legitimize Raúl Castro’s government and do little or nothing to improve human rights on the communist-ruled island…
Among the signers were some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, such as Roque, Guillermo Fariñas, Sara Martha Fonseca, Vladimiro Roca, Jorge Luis “Antunez” García Pérez and his wife, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar. Other dissidents have cautiously welcomed the papal visit as a ray of hope for the Cuban people and the Catholic church. Not signing the letter were Catholic activists Oswaldo Payá and Dagoberto Valdés, Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, and dissident Oscar Elias Biscet. Roque said that she has been asking for an interview with the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy in Havana, Msgr. Bruno Musaro, for the past month to hand over the letter but has received no reply.
The letter argued that since abuses against Catholics only increased after the papal visit was announced, Benedict’s presence in Cuba “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”
It cited three cases in which government-organized mobs harassed or threatened dissidents who had gathered in churches, including one Feb. 19 in which the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba had to intervene to protect 14 Ladies in White surrounded at the Our Lady of Charity shrine in El Cobre.
“One should add that on top of all that, some of the faithful are visited by the political police between Friday and Saturday of each week, to be warned that they will not be allowed to attend mass — and indeed they are arrested on Sunday,” the letter added.
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady piles on:
Cuban dissidents had hoped the pope’s visit would help them expose the twisted jailors who run the island prison. So what are we to make of the fact that the pontiff will not be meeting with any of the island’s Christian human-rights advocates? These communicants have endured unspeakable acts of state terror to be witnesses to the faith. They have earned papal recognition. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe their dashed hopes….
Berta Soler—Mr. Moya’s wife and the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, who since 2003 have withstood beatings, arrests and harassment by the regime to attend Mass as a group and protest political imprisonments—has gone even further. She delivered, through the papal nuncio in Havana, a formal request from the Ladies to see the pope, “even for one minute.”
Numerous other Christians on the island have made similar requests…Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s office told the Ladies in White that the pope’s schedule is too tight…
…In case all this is not enough to destroy Cuban confidence in the pope as an ally, the government newspaper Granma said this in an editorial last week: “We are sure that His Holiness will affectionately treasure the memory of this Caribbean Island, which values his visit as a manifestation of trust and a renewed expression of the excellent and uninterrupted relations between the Holy See and Cuba.”
All Cubans know that the “revolution” persecuted the faithful. They were sent before firing squads or to the dungeons, Catholic schools and churches were shuttered, and the island was declared an atheist paradise.
But now Fidel is reminding Cubans that relations were never broken with Rome and he is claiming that all the while he has gotten on fabulously with the pope. Will Pope Benedict, who is by no means a Castro sympathizer, allow the regime to get away with this?
Not if he insists on meeting some of Cuba’s heroic dissidents. A few fine words on freedom are not enough. Not at this point.
Cuban authorities detained a prominent dissident and dozens of her colleagues early Sunday, then rounded up more activists while they staged a weekly protest march through Havana just days before a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. Police took away Bertha Soler and three dozen supporters of the Ladies in White dissident group hours before they were to take part in a regular march down Quinta Avenida in the leafy Miramar neighborhood of Havana.
“They were arrested,” said Angel Moya, Soler’s husband and a former political prisoner himself. Soler was also detained briefly Saturday evening, he said.
About 30 other Ladies supporters did make it to the march, which began peacefully, but state security agents moved in when the Ladies tried to extend the protest into streets they don’t normally enter. All were escorted onto a bus belonging to state security. By Sunday evening, many had been released and some driven back to their homes, though Soler was apparently still being held. The Ladies in White formed in 2003, shortly after authorities jailed 75 intellectuals, activists and social commentators in a notorious crackdown on dissent, sentencing them to long prison terms. All have since been freed, and many have gone into exile.
Cuba has cleared its jails of most political prisoners, but human rights groups say the government of President Raul Castro has stepped up short-term detentions and other forms of harassment against the island’s tiny opposition. Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners, and says the dissidents are nothing more than common criminals and mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble. It scoffs at criticism of its human rights record by the West, saying its Marxist system provides citizens with free health care and education, and many other subsidies, while capitalist countries are plagued by poverty.
“Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners.” The Big Lie is alive and well.
It is to be hoped that the Pope makes sure that he sees some of the extraordinarily brave Ladies in White. I’m pretty sure that his predecessor, John Paul II, would have insisted. And while the Pope is on the island, he might also have a word with Cuba’s Cardinal Ortega:
The detentions came just over a week before a March 26-28 visit by Benedict, who is likely to encourage the government to adopt increased religious, political and human rights during his tour, at least privately. It also comes days after Cuban Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked police to remove a group of 13 opposition members who had occupied a church in Central Havana for two days.
While the church won assurances that the group members would not be prosecuted, the church-sanctioned raid and its hardline stance throughout the standoff was derided by many dissidents, even those who had opposed the initial occupation.
While many praise Ortega for mediating the release of political prisoners in 2010 and occasionally speaking out in favor of greater economic and political freedom on this Communist-run island, others say he has not done enough. They say Thursday’s decision to call in police to remove dissidents from the Church of Charity demonstrates Ortega’s lack of sympathy. Sunday’s events will likely provide more fodder for those critics.
Elizardo Sanchez, who monitors human rights on the island and acts as a de facto spokesman for the opposition, expressed astonishment at the posture of Ortega, whom he has often praised in the past.
“I can’t get over my astonishment over what has happened in these last few days,” Sanchez told The Associated Press. “The cardinal is acting like the first two of the three wise monkeys,” who could neither see evil nor hear it.
Even as members of the Ladies in White were being detained, Ortega was performing Mass at the grand Cathedral in Old Havana. His sermon inside the baroque, stone edifice before several hundred worshippers did not mention the week’s drama, nor did he say anything about human rights in general.
Cuban dissidents who had occupied a church in Havana to demand an audience with Pope Benedict when he visits later this month, have been evicted. The group of 13 want the Pope to press Cuba’s communist government on issues such as the release of political prisoners and an end to repression.
The protesters were removed from the Church of Charity in central Havana late on Thursday at the request of the city’s cardinal.
The Pope is due in Cuba on 26 March.
“Cardinal Jaime Ortega addressed the competent authorities to invite the occupiers to abandon the sanctuary,” Roman Catholic Church spokesman Orlando Marquez said in a statement.
The dissidents were removed without resistance, it added.
The group of eight women and five men had entered the church on Tuesday night, occupying an area off-limits to worshippers.
Pope Benedict has not announced any plans to meet Cuban dissidents during his trip.
His trip will begin in the eastern city of Santiago, where he will meet Cuban President Raul Castro.
During his time on the island, he will also visit the shrine of the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre and travel to Havana, where he will say mass in the main plaza.