Cuban bloggers have been making their feelings known about the impending papal visit to Cuba, their main concern being that the Vatican is putting its stamp of approval on the Castro regime despite regular reports of human rights violations coming out of the island.
In light of new reports of state-sanctioned actions against members of Las Damas de Blanco Last weekend, diaspora blogger Uncommon Sense suggested that:
Pope Benedict XVI should postpone his planned visit in late March to Cuba. The visit was part of a quid pro quo between the regime and the church, but continued repression of women trying to go to Mass should not have been part of the deal.
The blogger also posted a link to an e-Petition soliciting signatures from people who agreed with the postponement of the pontiff's visit “until human rights conditions improve in Cuba”.
Pedazos de la Isla echoed this concern, as he reported on “another Sunday of repression”:
Just weeks before Pope Benedict’s visit to Cuba in March, another Sunday on the island- February 5th 2012- was marked by an excessive level of violence on behalf of the dictatorship against the peaceful Resistance, for simply trying to attend church.
In the city of Holguin, 5 Ladies in White were brutally arrested around 9 in the morning as they tried to reach the Jesus Christ Redeemer of Men Church.
The post went on to detail the kind of violence some of the women testified about:
In Guantanamo, 11 Ladies in White were able to make it to church, despite a constant vigilance. Another 20 Ladies in White assisted mass in the Santuary of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba. 16 women were arrested as they tried to get to that mass, however, according to the Twitter account of Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia (@jdanielferrer). Among those arrested, according to his Twitter, were Oria Casanova who was “violently arrested, dragged, and beaten by 4 oppressive agents” and Liudmilla Cedeno who was victim of “sexual harassment in the cell where she was being held”. Ferrer Garcia denounced, also through his Twitter, “that is how the henchmen who sustain the Castro brothers are- they beat, sexually assault, and harass defensless women in Cuba”.
The blogger ended by saying:
In Cuba, the Ladies in White and other pro-democracy activists will continue marching, whether Pope Benedict publicly speaks out for them or not.
Speaking out for the Ladies in White is one issue, speaking with them is another. Capitol Hill Cubans reported that:
Last week, the Vatican confirmed meetings with Cuban dictators Raul and Fidel Castro during Pope Benedict XVI's March visit to the island.
Meanwhile, Cuba's courageous Ladies in White have been told to stand idly by as the Pope's agenda is “very heavy” (apparently from meeting with dictators).
How has the Castro regime received this news?
With impunity, of course.
babalu also commented:
Apparently, the Vatican has set aside time during the Pope's visit to Cuba in late March to have the pontiff meet with dictators Fidel and Raul Castro. However, they are not sure if the Pope will have time to meet with the Ladies in White, devout Catholics who are suffering repression, intimidation, beatings, humiliating sexual assaults, and death at the hands of the Castro dictatorship for trying to attend mass every Sunday.
Is it me, or do the Vatican's priorities appear to be backwards?
Iván García, meanwhile, wrote a thoughtful post on “the flirtations of Castro with the Vatican”:
It has been a formidable spin. Pure political juggling. A future strategy.
After a stormy and hostile period against the priests, Catholics and of other religions, where not a few went to jail or were imprisoned in labor camps, Fidel Castro changed his policy of confrontation. It was because of the rise to power by popular and democratic vote of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1971, that Castro was restated his strategy of gunfire toward the Vatican.
Latin America was and is the region with the greatest number of Catholics worldwide. The bearded commander realized at once that any revolution, whether through elections or armed uprising, should begin by acknowledging the role played by priests, bishops and cardinals in a new proposal for social change and advocacy of the always excluded in the hemisphere.
And he began to design a new ideological castling. The Fourth Congress of the Communist Party in 1991, he accepted as members believers of any denomination.
He realized that to subvert, ideas were more important than bullets. And if these ideas were proclaimed from the pulpit…so much the better.
The post continued recounting the chain of events that will culminate in next month's papal visit:
After Castro was on the threshold of death in 2006, his brother, General Raul Castro, took the reins of power and further paved the way to Rome.
When the a political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on February 23, 2010, as a result of a prolonged hunger strike, and the civilized world launched a major campaign against the regime in Havana, due to excessive repression against opponents and the Ladies in White, Castro II knew immediately who to call.
And he called Cardinal Jaime Ortega…The Cardinal would become key political chess piece for the Castro brothers. He was the partner par excellence between government, the militant Ladies in White and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. The talks allowed the release of dissidents who had remained behind bars since the crackdown of March 2003. Someday we will know if Ortega is driven by the hope that the situation in Cuba will lead to a democracy, or other pressures have led him to play a role that some exiled opponents see as cowardly.
What intrigues local observers is whether the conspiracy with the Cuban Catholic Church and the Vatican could lead to a democratic state of law. Or is just a ploy to gain time and give a wider social space to Catholicism in education and health, sectors facing hardships due to the widespread economic crisis in the nation.
Church and state, at least from the Cuban blogosphere's perspective, seem to be irrevocably intertwined.