AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Cubans are planning to take to the streets on November 15th and renew their calls for freedom. They are hoping for support in their brave struggle from Pope Francis and President Joe Biden, but neither world figure has been especially vocal in support of a free Cuba following demonstrations in Cuba earlier this year.
In fact, Pope Francis has been far more enthusiastic about speaking up for illegal migrants than he has been for Cubans. For example, last month the Holy Father called for an end to what he perceived as an unjust blockade of immigrants and deportation of illegals who reach Europe by the Mediterranean. The Pope lamented that those who are turned away will suffer. In the Angelus prayer on October 24th, the Pope dismissed entirely legal methods of immigration enforcement, including naval border controls and detention, as acts of irresponsibility toward “these brothers and sisters of ours, who have been victims of this very serious situation for too many years.”
Yet at the same time Pope Francis was delivering his call for open borders policies, Italian police who protect Saint Peter’s square, halted a group of hundreds of Cuban dissidents trying to approach the square to participate in the Angelus prayer with the Holy Father. They cried “freedom, freedom, freedom,” waved the white-red-and-blue Cuban flag, and carried banners reading “Mercy for People of Cuba”.
One participant told this correspondent that the demonstrators sought to share the plight of their fellow Cubans, who have faced unjust arrest, torture, and a ban on public protest, which is a violation of the country’s Constitution. “We wanted to ask Pope [Francis] to support a call for the release of political prisoners, denounce the tortures, and reiterate our right to personal dignity. We tried to ask for his word of solidarity with those who will march in November. The Communist regime tramps our personal dignity,” the Cuban dissident stated.
A tyrannical government is indeed the image that emerges from the first report on human rights in Cuba to be published following the recent nationwide protest last summer (which should be called the “July 11 Peaceful Anti-Communist Uprising”). Beatings, sexual assaults, detention in dark cells without a bathroom, sleep deprivation, water and food denial, and psychological torture – these are only a few examples of the Cuban regime’s policy toward political prisoners, revealed in a report released last month by Human Rights Watch.
Nearly four months after the July 11 protest, at least 500 political activists have been jailed, and the Cuban regime has so far refused to respect the rights set forth in its own Constitution, according to an account of the Cuban Conference of Men and Women Religious (CONCUR), which is intimately familiar with the pre-trial and trial procedures in Cuba.
Analysts at the human rights organization Cubalex have reported that at least fifteen minors under 18 years of age and 66 women are among the unjustly imprisoned protesters. Moreover, it is reported that the Cuban Communist regime’s prosecutors have asked for draconian punishments based on manufactured charges for individuals who have engaged in peaceful anti-Communist protest.
For example, Francisco Rangel Manzano, Leylandis Puentes Vargas, and Tania Echevarría Menéndez of the prominent Ladies in White opposition group have been charged with crimes of public disorder and contempt. If convicted, they face prison terms of up to 7 years each.
In a separate case, the Communist prosecutors have asked for 18- and 16-year prison terms for José Manuel Cabrera Pérez and Omar Martínez Ardi. The Cuban government’s affidavit claims that they criminally attacked the police.
The police also unjustly arrested and imprisoned Jose Daniel Ferrer, a prominent leader of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), as he tried to join the peaceful protest. This month, the regime has allowed his son for a short visit. According to Daniel Ferrer Jr., his father stays in an isolated cell and his health is deteriorating. He is allowed to wear only underwear as part of the Communist government’s effort to psychologically torture and humiliate him.
So far the Biden administration’s State Department has been muted in response to the Cuba Uprising and the hundreds of human rights violations that have followed in its wake. Unlike former Secretary Mike Pompeo, who would instantly unmask Havana’s lies, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been comparatively quiet. President Trump’s State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, among her many gestures, once recorded a special video urging the release of a prominent Cuban leader. No such online support has been forthcoming from the Biden administration.
With the draconian punishments that are being handed down and threatened, the Communist regime is attempting to terrify any Cubans who contemplate taking part in the upcoming November 15th march. But the courageous and confident Cuban opposition has not given up, including the so-called Archipiélago platform. This alliance of several opposition organizations and religious groups calls for the release of all political prisoners and the beginning of a dialogue among all elements of civil society aimed at the democratic transformation of Cuba.
The Archipiélago platform’s approach to the peaceful transformation of a Communist run country is very much like the approach taken by the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s. At that time, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church was Pope John Paul II, a Pole who vigorously championed Solidarity’s efforts, which makes Pope Francis’s silence today about the situation in Cuba all the more puzzling. In fact, Solidarity founders like Anna Walentynowicz and Krzysztof Wyszkowski considered Pope John Paul II a father of their movement. Unlike Pope Francis today, Pope John Paul II viewed Solidarity banners flying in Saint Peter’s square as a promotion of human dignity, not a political demonstration.
The Polish Pope was so courageous in support of Solidarity’s vision that he formulated a doctrine of human solidarity that has been formally added to the official social teaching of the Catholic Church. Ever more remarkably, Pope John Paul II did so at a time when the Solidarity trade union was outlawed by the Communist regime as a result of the Polish military crackdown on that national movement.
The late Roman Catholic leader formulated solidarity as a form of human dialogue and community rooted in what people “are” rather than what people “have”. In his teaching document Christifideles Laici, John Paul II explained that the dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. Moreover, he often cited the moral heroism of Polish workers as an example of this solidarity.
Indeed, the entire historic experience of the Solidarity social movement in Poland has been a source of inspiration for the Christian Liberation Movement, an opposition group in Cuba that rejects violence, commits its adherents to choosing the truth, and calls for national reconciliation through dialogue and transparent, sincere, and patient negotiations.
A strategic pillar of the Cuban opposition has been Catholic priests, who, as they did during the July 11 protests, comfort the faithful with prayer, teaching, and special blessings with the showing of a consecrated Eucharistic host.
In January, 27 such informal chaplains of the Cuban opposition penned an open letter titled “I Have Seen The Affliction of My People” in which they described the philosophical and moral situation of the country and compared it to the time of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt.
“We approach a critical moment in our national history,” they emphasized. “The crisis that is visible in the refusal to hold an open and transparent dialogue, involves the very structure of the system.”
Not surprisingly, this letter reflected a profoundly Catholic view of man, that is, the correct view of the human person whom societal institutions and governmental authorities must always treat as an end, and never as a means to an end. But the letter went further – it invoked the principles of the American Revolution.
“Governments are for the people and by the people,” the priests stated in the remarkable letter which has now been signed by more than seven hundred Cubans, including prominent opposition leaders, the Island’s inhabitants, and immigrants.
It will be in the spirit of republicanism and the spirit of the dignity of human person that thousands of Cubans will take to the streets once again later this month.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian and researcher.