from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Pope’s Sad Trip To Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana March 28, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

March 29, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana March 28, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)
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The most significant statement made during Pope Benedict’s trip to Cuba this week was that made by the government minister in charge of economic reform, Marino Murillo, who said “In Cuba, there will not be political reform.”

He’s right, although that is a truth too many people wish to obscure. The Castro regime took the occasion of the Pope’s visit to sweep up dissidents in a wave of arrests. None of that was surprising, but the Pope’s failure to advance the cause of freedom is sad indeed. The photos of him with Fidel and Raul Castro can only have demoralized those struggling and suffering for freedom in Cuba, for the Pope refused to meet with any dissidents at all. Moreover, his remarks were so carefully phrased that, according to press reports, most Cubans did not view them as a call for freedom--whatever the Pope’s intent.

Of course the Pope is not a political figure, but he did rather clearly say he thought the U.S. embargo should end. If it was possible to be clear on that issue, why not on the far more fundamental issue of freedom? I know the Church plays a very long game, in Cuba as in China and everywhere across the globe, and this visit may have gained the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba a bit more freedom for itself  to operate. But at what cost? "I’m deeply concerned that the Cuban church has negotiated political space for themselves in exchange for their moral imperative," Sen. Marco Rubio said this month.

Perhaps the full measure of this papal visit cannot be made yet, and its longer-term impact will be positive. But seen from the week of the visit itself, it was a sad event that did little or nothing to bring moral and religious support to those suffering in the struggle for liberty in Cuba.

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