Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis leaves Cuba: The silence of a friend

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King Jr. The Trumpet of Conscience, Steeler Lecture (1967)

Time to meet torturers while staying silent about victims
Pope Francis left Cuba on September 22, 2015 three years and two months to the day since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were murdered by Cuban state security. Four months prior to his death Oswaldo Payá addressed what is now happening:
Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to "assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island." The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change. The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. 
On Monday, September 21, 2015 a reporter asked the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, does the Pope know that more than 50 activists have been detained during these days to avoid them getting near him? According to the account in El País Lombardi visibly uncomfortable did not answer the question saying: "I have nothing more to say about this." Over the weekend reports emerged that the episcopal nuncio, Giorgio Lingua had invited some dissidents "to pass by" and say hello to Pope Francis, only to be detained by the political police before reaching their destination. The Vatican spokesperson had to recognize that although there had been no plan for a formal meeting with dissidents that there had been an invitation for some members of the opposition to pass by and say hello to Pope Francis, but he claimed that they had not shown up but could not confirm that it was because they were arrested. That same evening, members of the Christian Liberation Movement were harassed, detained and their homes placed under watch by state security agents to avoid them attending Mass the following day. 

On Sunday, September 20th scores of activists, as mentioned above, were rounded up to prevent them from attending the Holy Mass with Pope Francis at 10:30am. Nevertheless four opposition activists were caught on film, with one of them able to reach Pope Francis and receive a blessing before the four were taken away by state security agents and continue arbitrarily detained. The four have been identified: three are members of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU) identified as Zaqueo Báez, Ismael Boris Reñí, Aymara Nieto Muñoz and Lady in White, María Josefa Acón Sardiñas.

Pope Francis when he arrived in Cuba on Saturday, September 19 spoke at the Havana airport and made the following observation:
For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement.  It is a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue, “the system of universal growth” over “the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties” (José Martí, loc. cit.).  I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world. 
 His Holiness in his public pronouncements is confusing the Castro dictatorship with the Cuban people. The Cuban people have been excluded from this process. This months long process is the normalization of relations between the people of the United States and the Cuban dictatorship that fears the Cuban people exercising their sovereignty. With all due respect what is taking place is not an example of reconciliation but degradation.

Reconciliation requires courage and truth telling that can be difficult when confronting the Castro regime in Cuba. When Dissidents called on Pope Francis, in the midst of the crackdown during his visit, to speak forcefully on human rights and freedom they were asking for a necessary step towards reconciliation. Meanwhile in Cuba and Miami human rights defenders fasted calling for the Pope to recognize that they too are part of Cuba and should have a voice in a dialogue. Pope Francis remained silent and regime spokesman Ricardo Alarcon argued that the Pope's decision not to meet with dissidents was that he was “so busy to waste his time with not important persons and not important issues.” The important issues he refers to are apparently human rights and freedom, scarcely mentioned in the Pope's homilies and speeches.

On September 21, 2015 the Christian Liberation Movement, an opposition movement of Catholic lay people founded in Havana on September 8, 1988 issued a communique that expressed what an authentic national reconciliation in Cuba is and what it is not:
There can be no reconciliation without repentance, without constraint, without justice, without liberation. That is not reconciliation, that is abjection. Reconciliation is our purpose and desire. It is our sincere willingness to dialogue with all, a dialogue with and among the Cuban people for citizens to rescue their popular sovereignty freely expressed with their vote. We are not willing to hand over to Caesar our conscience and our freedom as children of God, as the People of God and that was given to us by God.
 Embracing the Castro regime and remaining silent before its past and present evils in the belief that this will lead to a soft landing is not only an injustice, but deeply mistaken. Martin Luther King Jr., explained in his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The spread of the Castro model into Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua may have been unwittingly assisted by this decades long policy of the Catholic Church in Cuba and intermittent policy of the United States. Let us hope that our prayers are answered and a Higher Authority intervene in this process.

In the meanwhile the regime's spokesman's insults will be quickly forgotten but the Pope's silence long remembered.

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