The Pope Forgets the Oppressed of Cuba

The pontiff’s visit gave the Castros what they wanted.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.

In 1960, Cuban bishops declared that “Catholicism and Communism respond to two totally different concepts of man and the world which it will never be possible to conciliate.” Pope Francis however contends that Communism is really Christianity. “The Communists have stolen our flag,” he said.

The Cuban bishops condemned Communism as “a system which brutally denies the most fundamental rights of the human being.” Pope Francis’ criticisms of the Castro regime were limited to oblique references, a plea for religious freedom for Catholics and general criticisms that could apply to Cuba or any one of a number of other places. He failed to even reiterate his old criticisms of the regime.

Cuban dissidents were kept from meeting Pope Francis and even the “passing greeting” that had been planned was shut down when the Communist authorities detained political dissidents. When the protesters risked their freedom to get near him, they were arrested without receiving any acknowledgement from the pope. The Castros got their meetings and their publicity. 

The oppressed, whom Pope Francis claimed to speak for during his visit and during his international travels, were left out in the cold. They were treated to another oblique reference, as Pope Francis expressed his desire to “embrace especially all those who for various reasons I will not be able to meet.”

“It simply doesn’t appear to us to be right or just that the pope doesn’t have a little time to meet with those Cubans who are defending human rights,” the head of the country’s largest dissident organization said.

Pope Francis spoke of Obama’s deal with Castro as a “process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement.” But he knows quite well that it’s nothing of the kind. The Cuban people are not estranged from the Cuban refugees in America by a lack of diplomatic relations, but by the brutal suppression of political and religious freedom by the Castro regime.

The Obama deal doesn’t bring the “two peoples” together; it puts money in the pockets of a regime that Pope Francis had once called corrupt and authoritarian. It allows American leftists to tour Cuba for the trade in underage prostitutes that it has become notorious for. This isn’t reconciliation. It’s exploitation.

 The clearest sign of what is behind the true “estrangement” in Cuba may be found in the 1960 declaration which contended that “The absolute majority of the Cuban people, who are Catholic… can only by deceit or coercion be led to a Communist regime.” 

Today, the reverse is true as deceit and coercion have taken their toll.

The Cuban bishops had defied the Castro regime as a matter of conscience. And they paid the price. The Castro crackdown on the Catholic Church in the sixties has been largely ignored by a media that is eager to tell a very different story. But it appears to have been just as tragically forgotten by Pope Francis.

Francis might have remembered Bishop Eduardo Boza Masvidal who was arrested numerous times and whose church was bombed after urging Cubans to remember “all those who fight and suffer persecution under Communist regimes.” And the pope might have remembered his words that Cuba’s communist regime is “based on hate and class struggle instead of love… it is a terrible thing to teach a people to hate. It is one of the most unchristian things that can be done.”

When Pope Francis attempts to make common cause with Marxists around class struggle, he is making common cause on hatred, rather than love, on divisive resentment rather than reconciliation. It is a plan that is not only doomed to fail, but is doomed to backfire, spreading more hatred rather than love.

As Che Guevara had urged, “Hatred is the central element of our struggle… Hatred that is intransigent…Hatred so violent that it propels a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him violent and cold- blooded killing machine… To establish socialism, rivers of blood must flow.”

This is the final terrible end of spreading class struggle. The hatred takes root and creates monsters.

 Father José Conrado, who actually lives in Cuba, provides a very different model that challenges the authority of the Castro regime, rather than attempting to find common ground with it. Conrado had challenged Cuba’s dictator on the existence of “prisoners of conscience” and restrictions on “the most basic freedoms: speech, information, press and opinion, and serious restrictions on freedom of religion.” 

He didn’t do it in 1960, but only a few years ago. Before the pope’s visit, he said, “I cannot overlook the suffering of my people, the injustices that I believe are avoidable. Dante said that the ninth circle of hell, the worst of all the circles, is reserved for those who in times of crisis crossed their arms and closed their mouths.”

Political change does not happen without political courage. And moral authority is not exercised by tolerating immorality. The moral authority of a totalitarian regime rests not on love, but on fear. Timidity in the face of tyranny upholds that moral authority of political terror. It gives in to fear.

“The fear generated by a totalitarian regime is not defined. It is a fear that provokes a paralyzing anguish because one can’t even define exactly what it is that one fears. What can they do to us? Can they take our lives? Can they take away our honor, by speaking badly about us, with defamation campaigns? They do that all the time,” Father José Conrado said.

 Religion can give people the courage to defy that fear. It can show an oppressed people the paltry limitations of tyrants who rely on intimidation for their authority. It can endow that defiance with moral authority. It is a grave error to sacrifice that moral authority for the sake of reconciling with tyrants.

In 1960, the clergy of Cuba understood that there could be no common ground with Communism, that it had to be defied even if that defiance was doomed, because complicity with evil would corrupt them.

Few serve as better examples of that then Javier Arzuaga, the former left-wing priest who had supported Castro, only to flee shocked and horrified by the butchery.  

“The day I left, Che told me we had both tried to bring one another to each other’s side and had failed. His last words were: ‘When we take our masks off, we will be enemies,’” Arzuaga recalled.

The Castros have their masks on again, but underneath is a totalitarian regime based on brutality and hate. Underneath their masks, they are the enemy. To aid them is to risk becoming complicit in their crimes.

If Pope Francis really wished to speak for the oppressed, there are eleven million of them in Cuba. They are not oppressed by capitalism or by global warming. They are oppressed by that fear, the paralyzing anguish that it brings and the apathy that comes with it. They needed weapons against that fear.

The pope’s visit gave the Castros what they wanted, but failed to give the Cuban people what they needed.