Pope Benedict XVI should never have accepted the terms and conditions insisted upon by the Cuban dictatorship for his trip to Cuba. By strictly following the dictatorship’s conditions, the trip ended up constituting a sad demonstration of lack of solidarity toward the oppression of the
It was inappropriate for the pope not to visit with the devoutly Catholic “Ladies in White.” It was inappropriate for him not to mention the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Wilman Villar and Laura Pollán, recent martyrs of Cuba’s struggle for freedom.
It is common knowledge that the church’s marriage of convenience with the dictatorship was planned and guided by the collaborationist Cuban Cardinal Ortega. But the fact that the “violently remove the peaceful pro-democracy activists from the church!” cardinal may have been the wedding planner, does not justify the marriage.
It seems as though history has repeated itself in Cuba. I recently re-read Jesuit scholar Manuel Maza Miguel’s masterful account of Vatican policy toward Cuba in the 19th Century, Entre la Ideología y la Compasión. Leo XIII, an erudite, respected pontiff, was an ally of many just causes in his time, but he was no friend of Cuba’s freedom. Maza Miguel describes how Catholic churches were used as forts by the army of colonial Spain in Cuba.
“How can it be explained,” he asks, “that the extraordinary Leo XIII, who showed such solidarity toward the working class, could not understand the justice of the Cuban struggle for independence?” The Jesuit scholar continues, “The measures taken by the Spanish ecclesiastical and civil authorities against those who sought a new direction for Cuba decisively limited the presence and vigor of Catholicism in the Cuban ethos.”
There are many admirable, patriotic Catholics in Cuba, and the church will survive this difficult test of faith for Cuban Catholics. But history cannot be separated from politics.
It is not surprising that, in contrast to many countries in Latin America and Europe, there was never a “Christian Democratic” political party of any relevance during the first Cuban Republic (1902-1958). I believe the Church’s political influence will be even less in the second Republic, which is fast approaching despite the cruel lack of international solidarity the Cuban people have had to suffer for over five decades.