Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Christian Resistance to Communism in Cuba

The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, without a doubt, would prefer to take the easy way out, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), ... There are too many who, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand. - Pope Benedict XVI, in Cuba on March 28 , 2012 

 Cuba is much more than the Castro regime.
Geography and population are important considerations. Cuba is just 90 miles south of the United States with a population of approximately 11.39 million people. It is 780 miles long and has a land area of 40,369 square miles and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area.

History not only informs the present and the future but past actions lead to future ones. Therefore to glimpse the future of Cuba one should not only look at the wreckage of Cuban society that is the legacy of Castroism but also what came before it. Out of 525 years of history the Castro regime's 59 years constitute 11% which is a lot, but one must look at the other 89% to gain a better understanding of longer term trends.

Fort of Saint Charles and the  Morro Castle (Havana, Cuba)
An outpost of the Spanish Empire
Columbus’s second stop in the New World was on October 28, 1492 when he landed in Cuba. (The first place he landed on October 12 was the Bahamas). Cuba was a Spanish colony from Columbus’s landing in 1492 until 1898 when Spain lost Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

The indigenous tribes that existed in Cuba did not survive Spanish colonialism due mainly to small pox. Cuba's main crops throughout more than five centuries have been coffee, tobacco and sugar. In 1517 the King of Spain granted a contract for 4,000 African slaves to be introduced to Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica of which 300 were allocated to Cuba. Over 600,000 Africans would be taken from West Africa and brought to Cuba over 350 years. Slavery would continue in Cuba until 1886

Alejandro Anreus in the August 2, 2016 article "Catholic Cuba: From Las Casas to the Castros"published in Commonweal magazine describes how Catholicism arrived in the island as follows:
Catholicism came to Cuba with the Spanish colonization, and reflected the religious zeal shaped by crusades against the Moors and the expulsion of the Jews in Spain in the 1490s. The church’s agenda on the island ranged from converting the natives (mostly Taínos) to combating immorality and resisting English buccaneers. As a church of the Spanish empire, it was a defender of the Iberian monarchy and its divine right to “civilize” its subjects. The Franciscan and Dominican orders arrived first, followed by Jesuits and Augustinians. By the time of the Cuban wars of independence, the spiritual autonomy of these religious orders would be compromised by their loyalty to Madrid (excepting the Franciscans). 
However there are deep linkages in the Cuban national character with the faith. For the sake of brevity will only focus on two.

Image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre
The oldest link is the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre and her appearance 400 years ago. Smithsonian Magazine in the October 27, 2016 article "The Surprising History of Cuba’s Patron Saint" authored by Emilio Cueto, as told to John F. Ross provides a brief account and how it ties into Cuban nationalism:
In 1612, in a bay to the north of Cuba, a 10-year-old black slave named Juan and two indigenous young men had found her while rowing out to an island to harvest salt. Despite bad weather throughout the previous day, the 15-inch-tall wooden Virgin figurine bobbed serenely upon a plank on the sea, her dress miraculously dry and unruffled. The story of her discovery spread quickly. The faithful carried the wooden figure to the economic hub of El Cobre, where they constructed a shrine to hold her. The Christian iconography is hard to miss: She came to Cuba bearing the greatest of gifts—her own child—and appeared not to a priest or bishop, but to common men. She spoke not just to the aboriginal people, but also to the Spaniards, Creoles, and African slaves. The latter would assimilate her image into their Afro-Cuban Santería faith many years later. When Cubans fought the Spanish for independence in the late 19th century, she became a national symbol of the small island’s struggle against a mighty European superpower.
Pope Benedict XV in 1916 granted the request of veterans of the war of Cuban Independence to name her the patron saint of Cuba. It also underlines the fact that Cuba's catholic roots long predate the current totalitarian communist nightmare.

The image is enshrined in the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, built in 1926 and situated in the village El Cobre, near Santiago de Cuba. The feast day of Our Lady of Charity is September 8; the solemn Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope John Paul II during his visit to Cuba gave a speech at the Great Hall of the University of Havana on January 23, 1998 were he spoke about Father Felix Varela, a Catholic priest credited with teaching Cubans how to think and an individual that through his writings and teachings formulated what it is to be a Cuban for the first time.
A pre-eminent son of this land is Father Felix Varela, considered by many to be the foundation stone of the Cuban national identity. He is, in his own person, the best synthesis one could find of Christian faith and Cuban culture. An exemplary priest of Havana and on undeniable patriot, Father Varela was on outstanding thinker who in nineteenth century Cuba renewed the method and content of teaching in philosophy, law, science and theology. To generations of Cubans, he taught that to assume full responsibility for our existence we must first learn the difficult art of thinking in a right way and with our own mind. He was the first to speak of independence in these lands. He also spoke of democracy, judging it to be the political project best in keeping with human nature, while at the same time underscoring its demands. Among these demands, he stressed two in particular: first, that people must be educated for freedom and responsibility, with a personally assimilated ethical code which includes the best of the heritage of civilization and enduring transcendental values, so that they may be able to undertake decisive tasks in service of the community; and second, that human relationships, like the form of society as a whole, must give people suitable opportunities to perform, with proper respect and solidarity, their historic role giving substance to the Rule of Law, which is the essential guarantee of every form of human concourse claiming to be democratic.
Three Popes would visit Cuba beginning with John Paul II in 1998, Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and Pope Francis in 2015. Pope John Paul II's visit saw the return of Christmas and out of the three visits marked a before and after in Cuba. More Cubans turned to the Church and a greater amount of civic, nonviolent activism was seen following the visit. This did not occur during the other two visits. Pope Benedict XVI's visit marked the return of Good Friday observances to Cuba. Pope Francis worked to push through the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Pope John Paul II in Cuba in January of 1998
Cuban Bishop Agustín Román on December 16, 2006 addressed the origins of the Cuban dissident movement in Cuba and its Christian roots. Bishop Román had been forced out of Cuba at gun point with 130 others on September 17, 1961. Here he describes the link between the first prominent and nonviolent dissident group resisting the Castro regime.
Underlining its membership in the historic struggle of the Cuban people for justice, the Cuban Committee for Human Rights comes to light on the anniversary of the birth of Martí and cite Father Varela as one of the inspirations of their founding document. It's the same struggle, but it is boldly different: it seeks justice, but by peaceful means. The concept of nonviolent civil resistance is introduced into the history of Cuba. Take the truth as a weapon, placing it in practice in the civic field, what Scripture proposed in the spiritual realm: "the truth shall make you free". Hence its importance at that time and its transcendence for the future of Cuba.
 The Christian Liberation Movement, led by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, was founded on September 8, 1988 on the feast day of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.  It was made of a group of  catholic laymen who attended a parish in the El Cerro neighborhood in Havana.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was the chief spokesman of the movement and the chief strategist behind initiatives such as the Varela Project, the Heredia Project and the Peoples Path.

Oswaldo Payá, Tony Díaz Sánchez, and Regis Iglesias deliver petitions
The Varela Project, named after a 19th Century Cuban priest, sought to reform the Cuban legal system working within its own laws via referendum. According to Article 88(g) of the Cuban Constitution Cubans can push through a legislative initiative via a petition with 10,000 signatures. In May of 2002 Oswaldo Payá along with Regis Iglesias Ramirez, Tony Diaz Sanchez and others turned in 11,020 signatures to the rubber stamp Cuban National Assembly.
The Cuban government's response was to organize its own mandatory petition drive to make the Cuban Constitution "unchangeable" and on March 18, 2003 it launched the Cuban Black Spring rounding up 100 activists and sentencing 75 of them to long prison terms of up to 28 years in prison. The dictatorship thought that this draconian response along with the execution of 3 young Afro-Cubans who had tried to hijack a ferry out of Cuba would shut down dissent.
Within days of the crackdown the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the 75 activists formed the Ladies in White. Meeting on Sundays they would go to Mass at the Catholic Church and then march silently carrying white gladioli demanding that their loved ones be freed. They would also hold literary teas at the home of the chief spokeswoman of the movement, Laura Pollán, a former school teacher. Ten years later they are still marching, their loved ones now out of prison, they continue to walk demanding that all political prisoners be freed and the laws changed so that new ones not replace them.

Laura Pollán, founder of Cuba's Ladies in White

Months later Oswaldo Payá delivered another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003 to the National Assembly.

 The leaders of the nonviolent civic resistance movement have paid the ultimate price in their struggle for freedom. Laura Pollán after years of suffering beatings, a fracture, injections from government mobs, became ill and in the space of a week died on October 14, 2011. A Cuban dissident doctor who examined her treatment described it as "purposeful medical neglect."

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and the youth leader of his movement, Harold Cepero, died on July 22, 2012 following a car crash under suspicious circumstances. The Payá family has called for an international investigation into the deaths of both Oswaldo and Harold. Rosa María Payá, Oswaldo's daughter, continues her father's struggle today for a free Cuba as well as pursuing justice for her dad in the Cuba Decide campaign.
Eduardo Cardet Concepción, successor to martyred founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, and unjustly jailed since November 30, 2016 was badly beaten, subjected to a political show trial, sentenced to three years in prison on March 20, 2017, and stabbed twice by three prisoners on December 19, 2017. This attack was most probably engineered by Castro's State Security in order to permanently silence him. The seriousness of the attack was only learned on January 15, 2018 when his wife was finally able to visit him in prison and see the extent of his injuries.  His health has been worsening and he has been refused religious assistance. It is feared that an injury on Eduardo Cardet's nose may require surgery because it could be cancer.
On April 5, 2018 Rosa María Rodríguez Gil, member of the Coordinating Council of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), went with her husband, Alejandro Febles, to the Council of State to deliver 10,000 signatures for the freedom of Eduardo Cardet, leader of the MCL currently in prison.Several State Security agents detained them and seized the signatures. [Rosa and Alejandro were held for 24 hours.] 

The struggle for a free Cuba continues in and out of Cuba and the Christian roots of this resistance stretch back centuries and will outlast the communist dictatorship. 

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