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    Will the Pope Swallow the Castros’ Bait? / Ivan Garcia
    Posted on September 23, 2015

    Ivan Garcia, 19 September 2015 — Right at noon on Thursday, September
    17, two enormous Soviet-era KP3 trucks filled with trash were rumbling
    along Tenth of October Avenue towards the garbage dump on 100th Street
    in eastern Havana, escorted by a bulldozer and a police motorcycle.

    Orestes, a community worker, has labored for twelve hours every day in
    various neighborhoods of the capital trying to clean up and beautify the
    city.

    “The government’s orders are to clean up everything in the city we can.
    Trash pickup has been scheduled for different parts of town. There’s no
    shortage of resources or fuel,” says Orestes, head of a clean-up brigade
    that is collecting trash with a tractor fitted to haul a trailer.

    Havana’s filth is legendary. Sewage spills and water leaks from broken
    pipes are routine. Illnesses such as dengue fever and chikungunya
    threaten to become pandemics.

    In preparation for Pope Francis’s visit, public health workers have been
    fumigating in a effort to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the carrier
    of dengue fever.

    “We are working in two shifts. We’ve gotten better quality products to
    combat dengue and chikungunya. Cholera is under control in Havana but in
    Holguin, where the pope will say a second mass, the epidemiological
    conditions are a cause for concern,” says an official with Hygiene and
    Epidemiology.

    In the run-up to the visit by the Vicar of Rome, the military
    dictatorship headed by the Castro brothers has spared no expense to
    alter the scenery. The facades of dilapidated buildings with holes in
    their roofs have received fresh coats of paint. Fifteen brigades of
    state-employed painters have prettied up Boyeros, Carlos III, Reina and
    Prado avenues.

    One day before the pope’s plane is to touch down — arrival time at Jose
    Marti International Airport is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. — workers are
    putting the finishing touches on different parts of the city.

    In front of the National Theater, flanked by the marble statue of Jose
    Marti and the hologram of Ernesto Che Guevara that covers the front wall
    of the Interior Ministry, a steel platform has been set up. Lined with
    wood and surrounded by Cuban flags, it is where the pope will celebrate
    his first mass in Cuba on Sunday, September 20 at 9:00 a.m.

    For Angela, a housewife and occasional Catholic, the pope’s visit is
    reminiscent of the crowded receptions organized by the Castro regime for
    leaders from the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe or the
    “brotherly peoples” of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    Employees at state institutions in the town of Boyeros have been ordered
    to line the parade route and cheer Francis as he passes in his
    popemobile. Representatives from dioceses and parishes across the
    country will greet His Holiness during the journey, and two-hundred
    pilgrims will travel from Miami to participate in the reception.

    Monumental receptions for heads of state who are considered “fellow
    travelers” or strategic partners have always been used to grease the
    Castros’ engine of propaganda.

    The sloppy varnish job the state and so-called mass organizations give
    to these receptions robs them of popular spontaneity. What might have
    been a festival for disillusioned young men and women planning futures
    far beyond Cuba, or a vision of hope for thousands of poor people, is
    once again hijacked by the state propaganda machine.
    At least that is how Maria Luisa, a civil engineer, sees it. “I am
    Catholic but I think the excessive media coverage of the pope’s visit is
    in poor taste. The government wants us to see this as validation of its
    political agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anyone has
    suffered from political intolerance, it has been religion, in all its
    denominations. No matter what it is — a recital or a sporting event —
    the regime co-opts everything for its own benefit,” she says.

    Osniel, a follower of Afro-Cuban religion, is not expecting great things
    from the pope’s visit. “No supreme pontiff has ever met with
    representatives of the Afro-Cuban religions, even though we are the
    majority of religious followers in this country,” he observes.
    “Ultimately, it’s the government that benefits most from these visits.”

    More out of curiosity than faith, several adolescents and young adults
    from the Sevillano district in southern Havana are waiting to attend
    mass on September 20 in Plaza of the Revolution.

    “I think the pope is a special guy. I want to get as close to him as
    possible. The liturgy of the mass is beautiful. And what’s more, he says
    things that are different from the official speeches we’re used to
    hearing,” notes Yonsue, a first-year telecommunications student.

    Thousands of buses will be made available in Havana as well as in
    Holguin and Santiago de Cuba so citizens there can attend the pope’s
    official public events. Even people from neighboring provinces will be
    recruited.

    Simultaneously, as the pope’s arrival draws nearer, repression has been
    intensifying. Opposition figures Berta Soler and Jose Daniel Ferrer have
    denounced the arrest of the Ladies in White as well as activists and
    dissidents in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Bayamo, Santiago de
    Cuba and Pinar del Rio.

    Cuba is a country with a never-ending economic crisis that has gone on
    for twenty-five years. It is a nation with a third-world infrastructure
    where a large segment of the population chooses to emigrate. If the
    prayers of the Holy Father were to bring some comfort to disillusioned
    Cubans, it would be a welcome development.

    But it is highly pretentious to think that the pope’s words can work
    miracles when it comes to an elderly caste that clings to power. The
    Castros are experts at manipulation and risk management. They can be
    expected to drum up large crowds to line the red carpet for God’s
    messenger on earth.

    We’ll see if Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio swallows the hook.

    Source: Will the Pope Swallow the Castros’ Bait? / Ivan Garcia |
    Translating Cuba –
    http://translatingcuba.com/will-the-pope-swallow-the-castros-bait-ivan-garcia/

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