The Crumbs That Pope Francis Will Eat in Cuba
The Crumbs That Pope Francis Will Eat in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas
Posted on September 19, 2015
Luis Felipe Rojas, 12 September 2015 — Joy came to 3,522 Cuban homes,
this being the the number of prisoners serving sentences for
(technically) common crimes who set to be released. Indeed, this calls
for celebration, as jails certainly do no reeducate anybody, much less
in the island’s repressive atmosphere.
Thus, the Cuban government has just offered another gesture to Pope
Francis in advance of his visit to Cuba, which will begin on September
19. The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its gratitude, as
no doubt many Cubans have done, but with no questions asked. As the
saying goes, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. And the meager
crumbs scattered in recent months by the Castro’s tight-fisted military
regime has left many people dazed and confused.
The twisted nature of Cuba’s leadership — stuck like a peg in the daily
life of the island since 1959 — has taken the liberty of deciding which
steps its countrymen must take without allowing questions to be raised.
Rather than being a cause for celebration, the specific details of this
phony amnesty are of a source of embarrassment and shame.
The internal gulag
There is something the intended audience for this “humanitarian gesture”
— Pope Francis, Cardinal Ortega, the bishops, priests, laity and all the
faithful mentioned in the message of thanks published in Thursday’s
special edition of Gaceta de Cuba, issued by the Ministry of Justice —
The first thing is that the sword of Damocles hangs over all the people
covered by this amnesty. The legal actions brought against those who are
imprisoned and the combined judgements handed down during their periods
of incarceration are filled with irregularities and could only have been
permitted in an authoritarian regime like the one in Havana.
The Cuban example is quite possibly the only one of its kind in the
western world. The offices of the local prosecutor in every city across
the country are physically adjacent to those of the National
Revolutionary Police (PNR). So much for separation of powers. Arguing
about such issues would be a waste of time considering the neighborhood
police, investigators, deputies and department heads have lunch with
officials from the prosector’s office every day, and even tend to their
physiological needs in the same restrooms.
PNR department heads still operate like old-fashioned bosses. Their
aides, advisers and trusted sources are still presidents of Commitees
for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), members of the Cuban Communist
Party (PCC) and the president of the People’s Council, which assists
local bosses through the Commission for Prevention. From this select
group — the face of Cuban democracy — come recommendations on the
application of the criminal threat law, among others.
The involvement of State Security in the trials of people hostile to the
Revolution is one of the jokes of the Cuban justice system, one that
will be difficult to eradicate from the public mind.
When Cubans are arrested for assaulting — verbally, that is — the
“Revolutionary process,” the offense is immediately treated as a common
crime, which in most cases refers to drunkeness, possesion of stolen
goods, domestic violence and illegal economic activity, crimes that are
laughable in a country where the destruction of wealth is presented as
Once the investigators of the Department of Operations or the Criminal
Investigations Unit are presented with the case of an individual accused
of a crime — one that does not presumably pose a threat to state
security — the file (containing accusations by friends of the accused,
jokes about Fidel Castro, extravagant tastes in fashion and the like) is
transferred to the cramped offices of the public prosecutor. Case closed.
Cases involving convictions for posing a threat to society (a crime
defined as “pre-criminal dangerousness”), contempt (for the authority or
the person of the commander-in-chief), assault (against authority) and
resistance to arrest (which in most cases is arbitrary) are reviewed by
those in Cuba who must approve all amnesties. These are granted as a
show of respect for foreign visitors — whether they be popes or
presidents — passing through Havana.
However, among the thousands of those freed, you will not see the names
of human rights activists who have been sentenced or who are awaiting
trial for civil disobedience, criminal intent or non-payment of fines,
although they have been known to shout, “Down with Raúl! Down with
hunger!” or “Freedom for political prisoners!”
Savoring the crumbs
Though the manipulation of the law — to say nothing of its proper
application — is not changing, the little men in battle fatigues in the
Palace of the Revolution are ever more aware they must offer some crumbs
to promote the idea that “significant changes” are taking place in Cuba.
The Castro dictatorship changes at will the rules of the game it has
agreed to play with the United States, the Vatican, the Cuban Catholic
church and the collection of businessmen and foreigners who see a gold
mine in the Caribbean Sea.
There were already more than 140 detentions in less than 72 hours,
related to the wishes of opponents in the east of the Island to attend
the mass in honor of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. Out of that
arbitrary action have been documented the following incidents: arbitrary
arrests; beatings; tortures leaving visible marks on the gluteus and
other parts of the body; cutting of hair to teach a lesson; threats of
shooting detainees through the head; ripping off of clothing and the
video-recording of such acts by the perpetrators themselves. The silence
of the Catholic hierarchy was proverbial, and that of the puppets who
who applaud the show by the generals in Havana, was shameful.
This week that remains before the arrival of the Argentine Pope to Cuba
will bring other surprises. The Office of Religious Affairs of the
Communist Party of Cuba, eternally directed by Caridad Diego, will
expedite other construction permits for Catholic churches, settlements
of religious orders in secluded places, perhaps–and it is a party that
will not be interrupted by the noise of those who demand respect for
In the days prior to the pastoring by Francis in Havana, Holguín and
Santiago de Cuba, it is expected that hundreds of peaceful opponents
will be detained (as occurred in March 2012 upon the arrival of Benedict
XVI), or they will be forced to remain under house arrest, until the
Vatican leader leaves for Washington.
One month after this “historic” visit, Francis will comply with
protocol, as required by the standards of Western civilization. He will
send a message of thanks to the man who opened his arms to him in
Havana–even while that man’s hands were stained with blood–but he would
have asked for forgiveness, and would have received it, with a smile.
Cardinal Ortega, the bishops and the priests will frame the pastoral
visit in terms no less sweet. When seated at the table, one does not
speak of unpleasant matters. It could be that Cuba will have some.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: The Crumbs That Pope Francis Will Eat in Cuba / Luis Felipe
Rojas | Translating Cuba –