Speaking Out Against Evil

Sunday, March 25, 2012
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Speaking out against evil

OUR OPINION: Regime’s affronts to the people of Cuba challenge pontiff’s goodwill mission

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cuba on Monday at a moment when the grim reality of living under a dictatorship threatens to overshadow the evangelical nature of his mission. The pope is expected to bring a constructive message about the need for change to a land whose people long for relief, but the Castro regime has already responded with an abundantly clear message of its own: Not interested!

• Amnesty International reports that Cuba maintains a “permanent campaign of harassment” against those demanding respect for civil and political rights. Only the tactics have changed, from long-term detentions to a churning of dissidents, rights activists and independent journalists.

• Around the same time, a shocking video smuggled out of the infamous Combinado del Este prison showed inmates, many accused only of “political” crimes, existing under sub-human conditions. The video offers more evidence that Cuba’s rulers routinely deny basic human rights to all.

• The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom declared that “serious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba despite some improvements.”

The violations include government “interference in church affairs” and controls on “religious belief and practices through surveillance and legal restrictions.”

And there’s more.

The Ladies in White, whose weekly procession after Mass is widely seen as an attempt to create a tiny space for dissidents, have been told that their silent form of opposition will no longer be tolerated. Evidently, their very existence is unacceptable to the state because it gives dramatic evidence of the discontent raging beneath the enforced surface of calm.

The pope is an agent of spiritual renewal. His presence will be welcomed by multitudes of ordinary Cubans who live in fear of the dictatorship and see his moral authority as an antidote to evil.

He cannot afford to ignore these affronts to the dignity of the Cuban people that have been a grim precursor to his visit.

The government’s abrupt removal of protestors who occupied a Havana church to demand human and civil rights last week put the church in an awkward position. In most countries, church authorities patiently wait out the protestors rather than calling the police to invade the sanctuary. But Cardinal Jaime Ortega, by his own account, asked authorities to “invite” the protestors to leave. They were promptly, forcibly ejected by a government goon squad.

A modest improvement in relations between the church and the regime has occurred under Cardinal Ortega. He facilitated the release of more than 120 political prisoners in 2010-2011, but the way the church went about it — pressing prisoners to leave their country for Spain, which is what the regime wanted — put the church on the wrong side of history.

The pope must make it clear that the church will never forsake its mission of defending the downtrodden. In Cuba, it has an obligation to stand up for the rights of dissidents. No improvement in church/state relations is worth an accommodation that calls the church’s moral authority into question.

It is unfair to burden the pontiff with expectations that no one can possibly fulfill about changing the nature of the Cuban regime. But it’s worth recalling the words of Pope John Paul II on his first visit to Haiti. Appalled by inhuman oppression and moved by the hope he observed in the face of ordinary Haitians, he declared forthrightly: “Something must change here.”

So it should be in Cuba.