In dissidents’ arrest following Pope’s Cuba visit, a Cardinal neglects his flock
In dissidents' arrest following Pope's Cuba visit, a Cardinal neglects
May 4, 2012
Cuban authorities arrested dissidents Vladimir Calderón and Julio
Beltrán on April 28. Their crime? The two men were accused of passing
out anti-government flyers and organizing an anti-government march on
May 1. Both men were publicly beaten as they were arrested.
Pope Benedict XVI walks with Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega, right, as he
waves upon his arrival in Havana in late March.
If anyone should be held responsible should something happen to Calderón
and Beltrán while in custody, I point a finger squarely at Havana
Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The crux of this story lies in Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the
island. Dissident groups saw an opportunity to have this self-proclaimed
man of peace intercede with the government for them, or at the very
least acknowledge them. Many Cuban dissident groups are Catholic,
including the country's best known opposition group, The Ladies in White.
Calderon and Beltrán's group, the Republican Party of Cuba, is small and
mostly unknown. They meet and pray together on the 13th of every month
at the Church of the Virgin of Charity in central Havana, a crumbling
neighborhood of tremendous poverty and crime just outside the city's
When they learned of the Pope's impending visit, they prepared a list of
demands they hoped the pontiff would discuss with President Raul Castro.
The demands included freedom for political prisoners, a stop to the
repression of dissidents, freedom to travel, freedom of association,
economic freedom, access to private property, internet access, wage
increases, more food for children and a dialogue between the government
and its opposition. Pretty standard stuff, at least for those of us
living under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Their idea was to deliver the list to the Pope via the Church of the
Virgin of Charity. But when presented with the document, the parish
priest refused to accept it, thus setting off a complicated back and
forth between the dissidents and the archbishop's office. The
dissidents, fearing they'd be victims of a government rapid-response mob
outside the church, refused to leave until a church official came to
talk to them.
And what did Cardinal Ortega do? He requested that members of the
national police force enter the church and forcibly remove the group of
13 men, women and children, sanctuary be damned.
The Pope came and went from Cuba, salsa dancing with the excommunicated
Fidel (in 1962), saying not a word about, nor once acknowledging, never
mind meeting with, any of the dissidents.
And then the Cardinal went to Harvard.
Ortega said the entire incident, which he described as the "occupation"
of the Church of the Virgin of Charity, had been a plot planned by Miami
exiles against the government.
And the dissidents? "They were a group that – this pains me a lot – all
of them were former delinquents," said the Cardinal. "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
The Miami Herald broke down the background of group's members. They are
mostly working class people (one survives by fixing lighters), but
several have a college education and professional careers, including
The extraordinary thing, to me, in the Cardinal's declaration, though,
is his use of the word "delinquent": a government favorite to discredit
And, of course, the Cardinal's cruel dismissal of the very people that
Jesus would have called us to protect: the voiceless and oppressed, the
poor and powerless.