Posted on Friday, 04.27.12
Opposition members take exception to remarks at Harvard by Cardinal
Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana,
Opposition members both in and outside Cuba take exception to some
remarks made by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana.
BY JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ
Members of the opposition both inside and outside Cuba rejected recent
statements by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, who
described 13 oppositionists who occupied a church in Havana just before
Pope Benedict XVI's visit as "delinquents." The demonstrators were
removed violently from the church.
Ortega also said that the late Msgr. Agustín Román recommended to him
not to use the word "reconciliation" during his first visit to Miami.
The demonstrators "were not removed by force," Ortega said. "They were a
group that – this pains me a lot – all of them were former delinquents.
There was a former Cuban prisoner who had been returned to Cuba, he had
been in prison for six years and was one of the excludable people who
were sent to Cuba […] among them were people without any cultural level,
some with psychological disturbances."
Ortega appeared Tuesday at a forum titled "Church and community: A
dialogue about the role of the Catholic Church in Cuba." The forum was
sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies of
Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Ortega said the occupation of the Minor Basilica at the Church of Our
Lady of Charity in central Havana on March 13 was organized from Miami.
He also said that there are groups "that greatly harm any type of
opposition or dissidence."
The removal of the 13 peaceful oppositionists from the Republican Party
for Cuba was criticized because of the violence exerted by the
authorities. The group remained in the church for two days. They
demanded the release of political prisoners, access to the Internet,
freedom of expression and the creation of a lawful government.
The removal lasted 10 minutes. The demonstrators were beaten, pushed and
kicked and taken to the Fourth Precinct Station of the Revolutionary
National Police. Hours later, they were set free, but first the
authorities opened criminal files on them. The incident ended the most
significant action of the opposition on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's
visit to Cuba, March 26-28.
About the meeting with Román and his recommendations on how Ortega
should approach his homilies, the cardinal said he followed Román's
suggestions because of the bishop's experience and knowledge of reality.
"Román called me aside and said to me: 'In your speeches, in your
homilies, you speak of reconciliation. Don't mention that word in
Miami,'" Ortega said. "I was reluctant to omit it, but he knew the land
better than I did. But it's awful that a bishop – that we should have to
omit a word that's ours, that belongs in Christianity."
Román, 83, died April 11 of a heart attack at the parish house of the
Ermita de la Caridad in Miami.
In his presentation, which lasted little more than one hour, Ortega
referred to the role of the Catholic Church on the island and its
relations with the exile community, the release of political prisoners
in 2010 and the call to the Cubans on the island to take up the Catholic
faith. He said that, as Christians, Cubans should support the changes
"The whole world has seen that the Catholic Church is alive and present
in these long years of difficulties," Ortega said. "The Pope also
reaffirmed that truth is the basis of freedom. Truth is the only
foundation on which an ethical conduct can be built."
Under Ortega's leadership, the Catholic Church and the government of
Raúl Castro began a dialogue to improve the living conditions of
imprisoned dissidents. After a meeting on May 19, 2010, about 130
prisoners were freed. Among them were 52 activists and independent
journalists in the Group of 75 imprisoned in 2003 during a wave of
repression known as the Black Spring.
Most of them went directly from the prisons to the airport and were put
on planes to Spain. Twelve of them rejected exile and chose to remain in
Cuba. Among these were José Daniel Ferrer García and Oscar Elias Biscet.
In that context, Ortega said that the improvement in the prisoners'
living conditions was at the request of the Ladies in White. He said
that the women were in agreement with the forced exile.
"Two years ago, the Church, seeing the conflict created by the wives and
mothers of the prisoners as they demonstrated for their release, turned
to the government to express its concern and was invited to mediate with
those ladies, to ask them to formulate their complaints and wishes,"
"Among other things, they proposed to [me] that their husbands be sent
to another country, that it was better to be separated by the sea than
by a prison's bars."
In Havana, Berta Soler, spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, and former
political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet criticized Ortega's words.
"To call those men 'delinquents' is to use words that the Cuban
government uses," said Soler. "I am not in agreement and ask myself,
where did Ortega get the information that allowed him to call them that?
As to the releases, we spoke at the request of some prisoners, not all."
Biscet said that he has a low opinion of Ortega and his work, because
the Church must always side with the downtrodden.
"I think that the Church leadership does not understand that the
government must be told that the changes are a person's basic rights,"
In Miami, Radio Mambí journalist Ninoska Pérez, a member of the Council
for the Liberty of Cuba, lamented that Ortega didn't direct his
criticism at the Castro brothers.
"It seems to me vile that the severity of his criticism is always
directed at the exile community and the victims, not the oppressors,"
Perez said. "Worse yet, he uses Monsignor Román, who is dead, and talks
about reconciling with an enemy who has not repented and who continues
to repress" the Cuban people.
Silvia Iriondo, a member of the board of ARC and president and founder
of MAR for Cuba, railed against Ortega for his "despective" language.
"Clearly, the Church of Jesus Christ is not the same Church as the
cardinal's," Iriondo said. "Our exile is a show of solidarity and
capacity for reconciliation among Cubans. So, what reconciliation is the
cardinal talking about? A reconciliation with the oppressors who
continue to repress [Cubans] and committing crimes?"
Ortega's appearance took place one week after Bishop Richard E. Pates of
Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee for International Justice
and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended to the
Obama administration to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Pates also asked that the restrictions on travel to Cuba be lifted, to
promote religious freedom and human rights on the island.
Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski said that it is important to remember
that the reference made by Ortega about his meeting with Román was made
in another "historical context."
"Those were the Eighties and Monsignor Roman was not advising [Ortega]
on the concept represented by the word 'reconciliation' but was saying
that that word packed, at that moment, another emotional weight," Wenski