The Catholic Left and Changes in Cuba
The Catholic Left and Changes in Cuba
September 9, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — In a post published in Havana Times a year and a half
ago, I addressed the situation of Cuba’s Catholic Church, its
similarities and links to the Communist Party and its contribution to
the reform process on the island.
In that article, I pointed out that these two institutions share
“pragmatic aims, where words and deeds don’t always go hand in hand” and
in which “institutional inertia” and “the social commitments of the
devout” are combined.
At the time, my hopes were set on the millennial religious institution,
which I thought could contribute to “the creation of a better country, a
country that should be governed, not by boots or cassocks, but by the
secular and democratic consensus of all its citizens.”
With time, as is often the case, my enthusiasm has waned. Though it is
true that the Church (or at least part of its leadership) has harbored,
in whole or in part, different editorial, civic and cultural projects of
relative importance (most notably the journals Espacio Laical and
Palabra Nueva and the Felix Varela and Casa Cuba centers), as a general
rule the Catholic hierarchy has shown itself far too cautious in its
responses to the demands and processes stemming from Cuba’s reform process.
Sticking to the “two steps forward, one step back” logic (a logic which
is sometimes inverted), in 2010 the prelates called for the release of
political prisoners…and then turned their backs on dissidents who, under
direct attack from the government, approached them for protection.
They have expressed support for the country’s economic liberalization
and called for a much needed process of reconciliation, while at the
same time ignoring, in their increasingly frequent public addresses, any
mention of the “sinful structures” reproduced by the Cuban government’s
penalization and censorship of peaceful civil practices.
With respect to the progressive standpoints which, within the context of
different academic (economic, political, sociological) and ideological
milieus (social-democratic, libertarian, Christian democratic), have
been gaining ground in diverse media and forums closely linked to the
Church, we can clearly discern a number of divergent postures within the
One such posture, perhaps the most predominant, casts a conservative and
apprehensive glance at the proliferation of new agents and discourses
which, from its point of view, could work against ecclesiastical efforts
to secure (with the government’s consent) broader spaces within the
media, education and society in general.
Another tendency, less significant in terms of defenders and resources
within Cuba’s contemporary Catholic institution, would want to turn the
Church (and its publications) into a champion of the struggle against
the government, within the coordinates of the discourse which combines
different modalities of a liberal creed with traces of anti-communist
The result of this is that valuable efforts to provide a space to
nationalistic, progressive and center-Left proposals for change are not,
in my view and contrary to the conspiracy theories woven by some sectors
of the émigré community and opposition, a dominant position within
Quite the contrary: the survival of editorial projects and civil forums
such as those impelled – with noticeable moderation and a sense of
national commitment – by progressive, secular Catholics will depend on
the sensitivity and pragmatic considerations of the government and
This means that the very existence of these projects hangs by a thread,
which either of these two elites can cut at any moment, be it because of
direct pressures from the Stalinists who are entrenched in the State
apparatus (something which seems unlikely today) or as a kind of
generous gift on behalf of high members of the Church hierarchy,
desirous of gaining favor with those in power and shaking off the burden
of their disaffected flock.
As the reform project makes headway, thus, we can expect the
aggiornamento of the Church’s dominant sector, which will modernize
itself to fit the island’s new economic and political model.
A liberalized economy managed by an authoritarian State will require a
politically sterilized Church with a stronger social presence and closer
links to the “new class” which is now gaining ground in the market and
educational and cultural spaces.
Neither the structural problems of poverty and inequality (ignored by
the traditional formula of charity) nor the issue of old or new sinful
identities (such as LGBT subjects or followers of Afro-Cuban religions)
will find an effective solution within this new covenant.
Under the newly-empowered clergy, sexual rights, secular thought and
religious diversity will cease to be the proud achievements of a
republican and revolutionary Cuba. Within the new conservative context,
the Church and State will train devout businesspeople rather than active
From the pulpit, they will preach a kind of love that dissolves all
differences and offenses for the “common good”, without thereby
acknowledging the existence of daily social differences, violence and
injustice. Their publications will look more kindly upon concepts of
profit, efficiency and order than on those of justice, democracy and
What those who, pontificating about their “intransigence before
Castroism”, discredit the work of progressive, secular Catholics should
understand is that this work isn’t sustained by monetary privileges or
I can personally attest to their humbleness, the moral integrity of
their actions and the authenticity of their national and social
commitments. I have been witness to their intimate and absolute devotion
to their faith and Church.
The dogmatists in power would also do well to understand that the
reforms being impelled by President Raul Castro cannot be decided within
the confines of expert meetings, that they have to be nourished by a
public debate able to steer them in the right direction.
Given its millennia of experience, what the Catholic Church ought to be
aware of is that its actions and omissions today will be judged by
people and by history. As per a logic of pragmatic calculations and
compromises, what all authoritarian interlocutors respect is someone who
demonstrates the capacity and confidence to sustain an independent
posture before the dominant power.
Since Catholicism is a global institution, the changes being experienced
within the Vatican today may have an impact on Cuban reality.
Pope Francisco, without exactly being a revolutionary, has demonstrated
the decency and common sense needed to undertake reforms based on a
broader notion of justice, and to condemn the shady dealings of the
elite and the impunity of the powerful, both within and outside
Hopefully, these same winds of change will reach the members of and
mentalities that abound in Cuba’s clergy, clearing the space for
initiatives that respond to demands of social participation and justice,
not mere strategic calculations.
We know, as Caribbeans that we are, how unpredictable winds can be.
Thus, it would perhaps be wise to prepare ourselves – from the bottom
and to the Left – to deal with this bureaucratic, technocratic and
ecclesiastical chimera that delays the arrival of Cuba’s democratization.
Source: “The Catholic Left and Changes in Cuba” –