April 21, 2012
HAVANA TIMES, April 21 — The recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI came at
a time when Cuban society is going through a crucial juncture in its
history: The physical decline of Fidel Castro along with the political
and economic decline of the centralized system of "state socialism,"
which he sustained.
This occurs as his brother and successor is developing a set of
economic measures being called "updating." This is an attempt to
maintain the failed system of state monopoly capitalism, which
traditionally masked "real socialism" in the twentieth century.
This effort is being implemented through the gradual introduction of
economic reforms, but without specific movements that demonstrate the
intention to advance the democratization of Cuban society, which is
The situation is exacerbated by the prospect of what might happen with
Chavez and Venezuela.
The pope's visit was an extraordinary opportunity for the government
to show its tolerance and its democratic vocation. I stated this in a
previous article concerning that event.
However, the government's behavior appeared more like a paramilitary
operation designed to face an eventual uprising than preparations to
receive a special and friendly visitor.
They conducted a broad and silent crackdown mounted to "keep the
order," during which time hundreds of people were victims of
repression to varying degrees: Some were jailed without any legal
procedure, others were forced to stay at home and more than a few
peaceful citizens were warned or somehow threatened concerning the
type of behavior that would not be tolerated during the pontiff's
In addition, many mobile and landline phones ceased working at the
same time that the Internet collapsed for those who were not a part of
the information system that was set up by the government for the
Some described this operation as a true test of a state of siege, one
capable of "shutting down" all forms of opposition in a situation of
The two papal Masses were filled with Communist Party members and
soldiers in civilian dress who were mobilized by the government. They
attended the ceremonies that weren't for them and that they didn't
understand. Meanwhile, many parishioners, Catholics and simple
believers couldn't get near.
In Mexico, the papal fiesta was for Catholics; here it was taken over
by the government.
There was unfortunate display of aggression when a Red Cross worker
slapped a protestor and then hit him with a furled-up stretcher. In a
deplorable and disrespectful act, the demonstrator had interrupted the
silence of the Mass by shouting an opposition slogan. This whole
stunning incident was seen around the world.
The security apparatus assembled for the papal visit could not prevent
the incident, which — together with the wide-ranging repression aimed
at silencing the opposition — which have remained among the most
significant public reflections of the event both online and in the
Did so much "order" and control reveal the discipline of the people or
merely the heavy hand under which Cuba is governed?
In any case it demonstrated the difficult task facing those of us who
hope the party-government learns to deal peacefully and democratically
with the increasingly widespread opposition, needing to voice their
demands openly and willing to do so peacefully.
Any interruption of the papal Mass by extremist elements of the
opposition would have only served to demonstrate their lack of
consideration and respect for the Holy Father, the Catholic religion
and all of those Cubans who were interested in showing their
But the government operation didn't give them that opportunity. It
prevented the extreme right from "misbehaving," which would have
received the absolute mass rejection, not only by Catholics themselves
but probably even by peaceful and democratic dissidents.
The radical opposition was therefore prevented from becoming even more
isolated than they are today; thanks to the actions of the
"counter-intelligence forces" (what they call themselves), which
achieved the very opposite effect. They don't listen to advice – and
we know what happens to those who don't listen to advice…
An apparatus that acts in this manner only demonstrates its fear of
any changes, and without realizing that the democratic current dammed
up for these past 50 years by "bureaucratic socialism" would flow with
less pressure the more open the floodgates.
Conversely, the smaller the escape valve is open, the pressure can
accumulate to a degree as great as any dam, and the contents will
eventually burst out and scatter all over.
These actions don't promote the "unity of the nation or greater
democracy for society," as the president himself has called for. Nor
do they encourage the necessary dialogue demanded by the situation and
by much of the population, whose numbers we don't know since there are
no democratic measures though which to measure what the majority is.
At the same time as all this, Vice President Marino Murillo (the
author of the "economic updating model") told the press corps covering
the visit "there will be no political reforms" in Cuba, ??which will
go down in history as a "camillazo" (a furled-stretcher blow) to
democracy, which in no way helps the government, its economic
management or much less its political future.
Some say the the Catholic Church won, others say the government,
others say that both did, but few realize how much the opposition won
with that "camillazo" and the information "blackout" that was imposed
by the government (whose officials probably issued commendations to
each other for their "fine results").
Does anyone honestly believe that the Pope could have been physically
assaulted by some Cuban citizen?
Has anyone asked how much the government spent on all the personnel
and resources to affect this demonstration of control? We can only
imagine the negative balances left in its wake?
Could there be any real relationship between the strength of the
opposition in Cuba and such governmental deployment and effort?
If the opposition is not allowed to demonstrate publicly and
peacefully, how does one know if there are only a few isolated
malcontents or many more dissatisfied people?
Or, was this just another act of foolishness that demonstrates the
"need" to give more funds to the bureaucrats of repression who for
some time haven't heard any explosions or any calls for
"counterrevolution" or discovered a new attempt against the life of
the Commander on the part of an opposition that has chosen the
Isn't this an indication that the government should adjust the way it
deals with the opposition and realize that it's time to start a
dialogue with everyone? Shouldn't they realize that the Catholic
Church and many others will defend and support us?
The Pope's visit left us with many lessons. Let's hope everyone draws
the appropriate conclusions.
And please, yell at those who screwed up, not at me for pointing out
that they did.
(*) To contact Pedro Campos write: email@example.com