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
“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
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
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
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 –