Havana’s U.S. flag no victory for pope: Column
Secretary of State John Kerry’s historic flag-raising at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Friday culminates a diplomatic accomplishment for the Obama administration and Pope Francis. But the ceremony has some irony, not all that unlike President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech.
The island’s dissidents weren’t invited, and the pontiff who helped usher in the new relations might have been expected to side with Cuba’s persecuted faithful. But when asked about Cuba’s spotty record, Francis demurred. “I would say that in many countries of the world, human rights are not respected,” he said during a July in-flight news conference. “Religious liberty is not a reality in the entire world; there are many countries that do not allow it.”
The pope’s answer is in keeping with his May meeting in Rome with Cuban President Raul Castro. The Vatican reported that the meeting was “very friendly.” But not even a prophet could have foreseen what came next.
“If the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church,” the 84-year-old communist leader told an amazed gaggle of reporters after meeting in private with the pontiff for nearly an hour. “I’m not joking,” Castro assured them.
But some in Castro’s Cuba aren’t buying it. “It is a mockery for Raul Castro tell the pope that he may return to the bosom of the church and pray again,” Berta Soler told Spanish radio. Soler is the leader of the Ladies in White, a Catholic opposition movement made up of relatives of jailed human rights activists who attend Mass and silently take to the streets while wearing white.
Soler’s skepticism might have something to do with Castro’s security goons, who continue to harass and detain the Ladies and other dissidents. Just days before Kerry’s visit, the government rounded up about 50 of Soler’s Ladies. The detentions are only “further proof of the Cuban government’s intolerance towards people who think differently,” Soler told the PanAm Post.
If a recent Univision Noticias survey of Cubans is any indication, Soler is not alone in that assessment: 75% of respondents said that when it comes to politics, they “have to be careful about what to say” in public. [Rather like what the present environment in some sectors of the Church is becoming… again.] The Obama administration and Pope Francis hoped a thawing would open the political system, but more than half of Cubans polled believe politics will remain the same. Still more don’t think the Cuban government will allow other political parties to exist after a normalization of relations.
But Castro’s crackdown seems to be more about religious freedom than the ballot box. “Many times, we haven’t been able to get to church,” Soler told the National Review at this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum. “The few who actually do make it to church have been detained for over five hours. They have been beaten.” This might be why Soler is more than a little frustrated with her spiritual shepherd. “The European Union, the USA, Pope Francis — they have turned their backs on us,” she said.
Read the rest there.