[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: The Pope and Change in Cuba

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Pope and Change in Cuba

Cross-posted from Babalu:

I had a bit of a hard time sleeping last night, and as is usually the case when you toss and turn in bed, many thoughts start streaming through my head. Among those was this one I'm about to share.

The date: January 25, 1998. An air of hope prevailed across Cuba as Pope John Paul II concluded his 5-day pilgrimage to Cuba. The final Mass in Havana promised to be a statement for freedom for many Cubans who have never experienced such a thing. Although John Paul II had spoken out against the U.S. embargo and the more negative influences of capitalism, the pontiff also criticized the lack of human rights and religious oppression in Cuba. There was no doubt that the Pope would not back down from the influence of the castro regime.

The Plaza de la Revolución was packed. A huge image of Jesus stared across the plaza at the permanent and even larger image of Che Guevara. A contradiction if there ever was one. Of course, we all know that Cuba is one huge contradiction, so the fact that the regime would allow for a temporary display of faith amidst the prevailing atheism wasn't totally unexpected. The "shock value" of such a display was nevertheless startling and couldn't help but instill a ray of hope in even the most cynical person. How could Cubans miss the significance of the Pope's message, of the magnitude of the event itself? Was this the catalyst to change?

Many Cuban-Americans were skeptical, despite the positive messages. Time has proven that the skeptics were dead-on.

Whenever the debate about the embargo, travel restrictions and dialogue flares up, I can't help but think about the Pope's trip to Cuba 9 years ago. To me, it's a representation of the stranglehold castro and the regime has had on the Cuban people for 48 years. I sincerely believe that many anti-embargo and pro-dialogue advocates have nothing but the best intentions at heart. Pope John Paul II is a classic example. However, I would have to think that even these people, upon introspection, have to conclude that very little can be done unless change occurs from within Cuba. If the Pope couldn't inspire massive change, who or what can? Can we expect money-hungry politicians to do so? Can sitting down in a table across from the wardens of the prison known as Cuba in an attempt to reason and compromise do so?

Those of you reading this who think that the solution is to dialogue with the regime; that opening up to Cuba instead of steadfastly demanding change is the answer: take the time to think about this. I certainly have, and the conclusion I arrive at is always the same one:

Support those in Cuba who want change. Support people such as the Ladies In White described in the previous post. Most of all, do not expect an increase in dollars flowing into Cuba to be the answer. If the Pope couldn't do it, if diplomats can't, then who's going to think that a flood of tourists with dollars to spend will?

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