Saturday, April 21, 2012

Praying to Ratzinger Behind the Bars of the Revolution / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Praying to Ratzinger Behind the Bars of the Revolution / Orlando Luis
Pardo Lazo
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The prison guards had a radio on. It was a small transistor radio – an
obsolete thing like everything else in the Police Station of La Regla, a
town across the Havana bay.

The interrogation offices were decorated in an antiquated style typical
for Soviet-like political propaganda: Pictures of the assault on the
Moncada Barracks, of the Granma yacht landing, of Che Guevara's bandaged
arm, of the wide-brimmed hat of the disappeared Comandante Camilo… all
the icons of the beginning of the Revolution, and all of them bearing
Fidel Castro's quotes.

The walls of the prison glowed with a fresh coat of paint. In a way, it
seemed as if they painted the prison in my honour, which filled me with
horror. Down in the barred basement, behind the giant padlocks, I got an
inconsolable feeling of loneliness. I had no criminal record and this
was the first time I was put to jail. In fact, they caught me like a
wild animal in a hunt. I was arrested in the street but there no
criminal charges were made against me. The task force that took me in
did not identify themselves, they didn't inform my family or friends,
they had no legal authorization to detain me and keep me in prison for
two days – the two days that Pope Benedict XVI spent on a visit to
Havana – a bizarre event of beatitude and barbarism mixed together. Or,
if you like, downright Kafkaesque reality on the shores of the Caribbean

On Tuesday morning, March 29, the day of the Pope's mass in the Plaza de
la Revolucion, the Cuban capital woke up to a nightmare: The whole city
was under control of agents and officers, both uniformed and in civilian
clothes. They caused traffic jam. They intimidated and arbitrarily
detained countless independent journalists, human rights activists,
political opponents, as well as beggars and vendors without licenses.
And they did all of this before the very eyes of international press
correspondents, who were concentrating all their attention on the figure
of Joseph Ratzinger, standing in front of his altar, and on facial
expressions that the President Raul Castro made at each word of subtle
meaning in the Pope's homily.

Days before that, state telephone companies, ETECSA and CUBACEL,
participated in the operation, which was unofficially called "Vote of
Silence", by blocking thousands of telephone lines – without any
technical reason, without prior notice and with no right to
compensation. Even the highly limited internet services, which are
available in Cuba only to two privileged groups – foreigners and elite
officials, were cut.

From the very beginning of my imprisonment, I stopped eating and
drinking water. I also tried not to pay much attention to the
provocation of a State Security attorney, who reminded me of a character
from Minority Report. To fill up the time before the Pope takes off to
Vatican, he accused me of an alleged "subversive activity" and "public
scandal", for which he didn't need any proof. H. G. Wells's time machine
kept by the Cuban counter-intelligence organization in the Museum of the
Cold War has apparently retained all its functions intact. I wonder why
they don't rename the organization to "Cuban counter-citizen forces".

Thus, only the small battery-operated radio from the socialist times
kept me in touch with the rest of the world beyond the bars of the
modern catacombs in which I was imprisoned. Radio broadcasting was the
only way I could learn about the passing of time during my imprisonment,
which turned to something like the longest dawn in my life. I already
started to feel weakness in the muscles and lack of glucose in the
brain, when I finally heard the liturgical songs sung during the only
hijacked Mass in the history of Catholicism.

It was a sad scene. The Mass was attended by atheist workers,
Marxist-Leninist or rather Stalinist labour unionists, not to mention
State Security members disguised as Red Cross staff or, who knows, maybe
even altar boys. The parishes were denied the right to freely decide
which parishioners would go to the Mass as there were "black lists" of
people and if anybody's name was on this list, the person would be
instantly dropped off the official bus – the only means of accessing the
Plaza de la Revolucion, where the Mass was celebrated. The famous
square, whose podium has so many times in history turned to a tribunal
of blind masses led by their supreme leader (whom the Catholic Church
excommunicated dozens of years ago), hysterically chanting "Death to

The Mass served by Benedict XVI seemed endless. By instinct, I knelt and
prayed. It was my first time in prison and I didn't pray to God, but to
Joseph Ratzinger himself. I implored him to make his speech shorter, to
skip the formalities of the Eucharistic liturgy, I begged that he
wouldn't extend the meeting between the Catholic Church and the
Communist Party prescribed by the diplomatic protocol, I prayed that he
wouldn't return the victimizing smiles of the Cardinal de Cuba, I wished
that the Pope-mobile could speed him off directly from the altar to the
Havana international airport and, if it's not heresy, I also prayed that
the Holy Father would never again accept an invitation that would lead
to suppression of poor people in this or any other country-prison.

Note: This article was translated by and originally published in Cubalog.EU.

12 April 2012

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