THE CHURCH AND CUBA
Cuba is not Poland, where the Catholic faith was strong and decisive against communism. Before Castro, the Catholic Church was viewed by many as too strongly identified with the Batista dictatorship, while, paradoxically, Castro owes his life to the Catholic Church. In 1953, one year after Batista's coup, Castro led a failed attack against the Moncada Garrison where many young revolutionaries lost their lives. After the fiasco, Castro ran to seek refuge with Santiago de Cuba's Archbishop, Monsignor Perez Serantes, who got from Batista the warranty that Castro's life would be respected and that he would receive legal due process according to the constitution.
However, in 1959, after Castro's rise to power, he turned his rage against the Catholic Church: August 1960, Castro-controlled mobs attack worshippers emerging from mass; all Catholic radio and TV programs are cancelled. April 1961, all Catholic publications are halted; churches are vandalized by Castro's mobs; Cuban Cardinal Arteaga seeks political asylum in the Argentine Embassy.
June 1961, Castro expropriates all religious schools (about 350 Catholic), removing parents’ right to determine their children’s education - their only choice is Castro's public schools where the children are discouraged to believe in God and are indoctrinated for a communist society where hatred for Castro's enemies is highlighted.
September 1961, Castro expels Bishop Boza Masvidal along with 131 other Catholic clergy; by years end 3,400 priests and nuns are forced into exile. November 1965, Castro calls remaining priests and believers "social scum" sending many of them to the newly created UMAP concentration and labor camps in the province of Camagüey along with gays and others “unfit” for his communist revolution. By 1971 the population of Castro's gulag was 100,000, while conservative estimates place the number of executed at 5,000.
In 1964, families began to hide their celebration of Christmas because the infamous block Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were blacklisting people with Christmas trees. In 1969, Castro officially abolished Christmas and its celebration.
These events destroyed almost entirely the influence and moral guidance of the church in Cuba. In opposition to the militant attitude of the church in Latin America against authoritarian regimes, in Cuba the church became passive and silent about Castro's crimes. At times it collaborated in exchange for a few concessions from Castro in order to survive. Castro’s blackmail and manipulation of the church continues to this day.
During almost four decades, there is hardly a priest who raised his voice to defend Castro's victims. Unfortunately, the church’s attitude has been shameful and embarrassing. For example, in 1996, in a gesture that can be construed as the Vatican trying to appease Castro, Father Jose Conrado, who dared criticize Castro's regime, was sent by the church to Spain to "study." And on multiple occasions the church has opened the doors of their once sacred ground to Castro’s secret police to apprehend dissidents and have refused to read in their services the names of the people killed in the 1994 tugboat incident or the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue incident.
Religious people are still being expelled from Cuba. In October 1998, 27 members - all US citizens - of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were expelled for undertaking missionary work. Jose Gonzalez Jaramillo, a Mexican priest who heads a church in the Granma province was being harassed in 1998 by the Rapid Action Brigades - groups of paramilitary Castro thugs – for talking about controversial topics involving Cuba during the masses which he celebrated. Both of these incidents were reported by Cuba Free Press, the independent news agency.
Castro's officially approved Auxiliar Bishop of Havana, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, as well as Cardinal Jaime Ortega, has provoked the ire of many Cubans because of their collaboration and praise for Castro’s revolution and its supposed accomplishments.
Tania Quintero, an independent journalist reporting from Havana, says, “Liberation theology never took root on this island. That could very well be one of the reasons why our brand of Roman Catholicism cannot be compared to that of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala or Mexico, where there’s a brand of Roman Catholicism very much involved with the national reality, regardless of how violent. By contrast is the apparent cold shoulder and distant attitude emanating from the Cuban Catholic Bishop’s Conference as far as national politics is concerned.”
Puzzling is the church’s silence about the high number of abortions performed in Cuba since Castro took over. Dr. Hilda Molina, is an internationally distinguished Cuban neurosurgeon, a member of the Communist Party and the National Assembly, until she began complaining about the abuses and apartheid in the health care practices in Cuba. She explains that women seeking abortions are forced to have Caesarian sections when an ordinary vaginal procedure would suffice “in order to get fetal tissue” to sell abroad. The unwitting donors’ “embryo’s destiny was hidden from them.”
Apparently the church is procuring an accommodation with the Cuban tyrant at all costs in exchange for a few concessions. But Castro, who remains intolerant of real political change, can reverse them at his convenience. The church’s behavior is disheartening and demoralizing for those who want a democratic Cuba without Castro and his thugs.
The church must follow the sample of last century’s Catholic priest Félix Varela, who, from his exile in the US, stood tall against Spain’s tyrannical rule in Cuba in favor of freedom. He advocated no compromise with tyranny. He harshly criticized the insensitivity of those who ignored the horrors and the lack of scruples of those who participated. These two not-very-pious lines of conduct are ruling the church policy toward Castro today.
© ABIP 1999
Agustín Blázquez, Producer/Director of the documentary COVERING CUBA, with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton