Cuba is striving to renew and broaden its horizons

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012

Benedict in Cuba “Dear friends, I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons.” Thus spoke Pope Benedict XVI yesterday following his arrival at Antonio Maceo International Airport in Santiago de Cuba. The diplomatic skill that went into crafting this sentence is of a very high order indeed. Less delicately put, it’s message is clear: bid goodbye to Marxism. For the benefit of his listeners, foremost being President Raúl Castro, the Pontiff emphasized that the country’s future is tied to its historical “true identity”, as opposed, no doubt, to its false, modern one: “Of great help in this enterprise will be the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity, and which stand out in the work and the life of many distinguished fathers of the country, like Blessed José Olallo y Valdés, the Servant of God Félix Varela, and the acclaimed José Martí.”

Then, the Hope & Change sentence: “For her part, the Church too has diligently contributed to the cultivation of those values through her generous and selfless pastoral mission, and renews her commitment to work tirelessly the better to serve all Cubans.” This is an allusion to the relationship between Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Raúl Castro that has helped reconcile the regime with the Church. Ortega has worked to free more than 130 political prisoners who challenged the Castros and he has become the go-to mediator in conflicts between the dictators and those opposing them. By default, the Catholic Church is playing the role of “opposition” in Cuba and some analysts say that the emergence of a Christian Party is all but inevitable in a Cuba that’s contemplating life after the Castro brothers.

To the disappointment of some, perhaps, Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute, Phil Peters does not think that Rome will adopt an activist role in the island’s affairs. Instead, he sees Benedict’s visit as “a vote of confidence in Cardinal Ortega and the Cuban church, as the Vatican’s head of state he will applaud improved church-state relations in Havana. But he will leave it to the Cubans to make their own history.”

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