Pope Francis Officially Shuns Cuban Dissidents

Saturday, September 19, 2015
From AP:

Pope Francis plans to duck dissidents in Cuba

Pope Francis plans to meet with Cuba's president and its priests, its young and its sick, its churchgoers and its seminarians as he travels around the island starting Saturday. But not its dissidents.

The absence on Francis' agenda of any meeting with the political opposition has sparked bitter critiques from dissidents who say they feel let down by an institution they believe should help push for greater freedom in Cuba.

"He should exert more pressure," said Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de SATS. "In many cases political systems have come under international pressure that has resulted in change, and that's what needs to be happen with Cuba."

Papal observers say it's likely Francis will speak strongly to Cubans about the need for greater freedom in their country and may speak to President Raul Castro in private about the same topic. But in shying from meetings with dissidents, the pope is hewing largely to the Cuban Catholic Church's strategy of advocating for change within bounds laid out by the communist state rather than pushing the system to change as John Paul II did in Eastern Europe. There is no one Cuban officials consider more out of bounds than the country's dissidents, whom they call mercenaries paid by the U.S. government and Cuban-American interest groups in Miami.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said this week that Francis had not accepted any invitations to meet with dissidents, and well-known opposition members told The Associated Press they have received no invitation to see him.

Lombardi noted that a possible occasion for bringing up Cuban's human rights situation could be during Francis' private meeting with Raul Castro, or while the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, meets with his Cuban counterpart.

"Often, these types of problems are dealt with in conversations, not so much with public proclamations but in personal, direct or private discussions," Lombardi said. "The tradition of the Holy See's authority is to deal with them with a discretion that can often be more efficient than other, possibly more visible but less opportune ways."

The pope "will be well aware that his not meeting dissidents will be construed in some quarters as kowtowing to the regime but he won't care about that," said Austen Ivereigh, author of "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope."