A Hint of Leadership?

Monday, May 24, 2010
Or an effort to regain lost credibility? Time will tell.

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Leadership, at last, for Cuba's people

OUR OPINION: Catholic Church can be a catalyst for change

Finally, after a long silence, Cuba's Catholic Church is taking a stand, calling on the Castro regime to free 26 political prisoners who are in failing health.

About time.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Santiago Archbishop Dionisio García, head of the island's Bishops' Conference, met with Raúl Castro last week -- the first in an expected series of talks to deal with the dictatorship's abysmal treatment of Cubans, in and out of prison. The meeting, the first in five years between the regime's officials and church leaders, comes after the cardinal last month acknowledged in a Catholic magazine that Cuba is in economic crisis and noted that people are desperate for political and social change.

Ladies in White abused

It also comes after Spain, the European Union and many Latin American leaders have challenged the Castro government's mistreatment of the Ladies in White, women who walk peacefully in protest of their loved ones' imprisonment. The Obama Administration and world leaders also condemned Cuba's horrid prison conditions following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after more than 80 days in a hunger strike seeking better treatment of prisoners of conscience. And it's happening as dissident journalist Guillermo Fariñas has made headlines worldwide in a hunger strike calling for the release of the 26 ailing prisoners -- a demand that Gen. Castro labeled "blackmail" in April.

For now the Ladies have resumed their marches, but the Castro regime is pressuring them to split from a group of female supporters who have been walking with them. In typical Orwellian doublespeak the regime claims those supporters "distort" the issue.

Cardinal should speak up

In truth, Cubans have stepped up their quest for rights after 51 years of fear inspired by firing squads and "defense of the revolution" block captains who report to the government on neighbors' every move.

Cardinal Ortega has remained mum for too long. He has tried to collaborate with the regime in hopes of getting an opening, as Pope John Paul II called for during his 1998 visit to the communist island. But even as the world has opened to Cuba with more trade and tourism, Cuba has cracked down on its people, unable to accept dissent without imposing violent consequences.

This would not be the first time Cuba has freed prisoners, of course. The Castro brothers have a long history of making small moves in an attempt to score big points abroad. That's why the cardinal and bishops' efforts are so important. They have to seize this opportunity when key leaders and trading partners with Cuba are watching and demanding action. In a country run by old revolutionaries, stuck in a time warp of failed policies, Cuba's youth are restless.

The Church, as it did in Poland and other nations during the Cold War, can play a pivotal role in being a voice for those the regime wants to silence.