Cuba's Catholic Church May Restrict Rare Forum for Open Debate
June 16, 2014 1:18 PM
HAVANA — The resignation of two editors of an outspoken Roman Catholic
Church magazine in Cuba threatens to stall what had been a thriving
political dialogue inside Cuba and a rare forum to challenge the ruling
Communist Party publicly.
The former editors of Espacio Laical magazine, Roberto Veiga and Lenier
Gonzalez, used the Internet to promote debate on political issues such
as the need for a multi-party system, internet expansion, reintegration
with the diaspora and the strengths and weaknesses of reforms under
President Raul Castro.
They quit last week after 10 years on the job, saying in their
resignation letter it was because of pressure from inside the Church
hierarchy, not the government, from people who did not want the Church
to get involved in politics.
While small by Latin American standards, the Cuban Catholic Church is by
far the largest and best organized force on the Caribbean island with a
different ideology than the Communist Party.
Church and state
Now Church insiders and diplomats fear conservative bishops from the
Cuban provinces are attempting to reverse the course of Cardinal Jaime
Ortega, a moderate who is scheduled to retire soon and who had improved
relations with the Cuban state.
Although Ortega helped open space to criticize the Cuban system, a
faction within the Church was skeptical about striking a bargain with
Cuban authorities given past repression.
"I hope this doesn't signal a historic mistake by the Church at a
critical moment for Cuba," said a European ambassador who follows Church
politics and supports Ortega's policy.
An East European diplomat had a different take, stating any cooperation
with the government was useless and only gave it credibility.
The magazine, which is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Havana, had
proved uniquely able to bring to the discussion Cubans from various
political persuasions on and off the island and sponsored forums in
Havana that drew a mixed political audience, from government supporters
It had a run of just 4,500 issues but a larger and more active presence
online. Most intellectuals, artists and academics have some access to
the Internet while the general population does not.
"It's always hard to say, but no one is indispensable," the magazine's
recently appointed director, Gustavo Andujar, said in a brief statement
about the editors' resignations. "Espacio Laical will continue with a
Espacio Laical and its editors had become more outspoken after the
cardinal brokered the 2010 release of most political prisoners and
forged a tactical alliance with Castro, supporting his reforms in
exchange for more visibility in state media and other minor concessions.
Church insiders said the former editors and recently appointed director
were often at odds due to the latter's efforts to tone down the magazine.
The director, former editors and the Havana archdiocese had no further
Veiga and Gonzalez said their work had provoked the ire of those "who
think that the Church should not get involved in politics and those who
believe that it should not provide space to all actors in Cuban civil
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