As Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Santiago, Cuba, fresh from a weekend in Mexico, plenty of people are weighing in. It’s the first time since John Paul II visited in 1998 that the Pope has come to these nations, and at Latitude News we think that makes it a story to watch.
Global Voices ran these comments from blogs inside Cuba, a number of which raised questions about ongoing human rights violations in Cuba.
But in some ways, the Pope may find Cuba, (officially atheist, though long more accommodating to religion than Communist regimes like those in Russia and China), more welcoming than Mexico. In Mexico, the Pope was greeted by hundreds of thousands, but also by this editorial from the Mexican English-language paper The News. It said the Pope’s three-day visit was to a country that since John Paul II’s visit faces an ongoing decline in its Catholic population (from 88 percent ot 83 percent), has legalized abortion (2005) and gay marriage (2007) and where the Church is racked with infighting. “The Pope’s visit is not that of an evangelist, but of a fireman,” wrote Ricardo Castillo in his opinion piece.
Granma, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, chose to reflect on John Paul II’s visit in 1998. It called the visit an example of how socialism and religion could work together, and said that “it was gratifying to hear the leader of the Catholic Church condemn the U.S. blockade of Cuba, describing it as “restrictive economic measures imposed from outside of the country, unjust and ethically unacceptable.”
It also noted that John Paul II “criticized neoliberalism, then in its apogee. “Economically unsustainable programs are being imposed on nations, as a condition of receiving more aid and the exaggerated enrichment of a few at the cost of the impoverishment of many can be confirmed.”
Cuba now allows some elementsof a market economy, notes Der Spiegel. It said Pope Benedict, who is German, will enter a Cuba more open to private enterprise than at any time in the 54 years since Fidel Castro took over. That’s because Castro’s brother and successor, Raul, has opened some opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Der Spiegel noted that “ganancia, the Spanish word for profit, is no longer a dirty word in Havana, where a gold-rush mentality has taken hold. New privately owned restaurants are constantly opening, and their owners buy meat and vegetables at early-morning farmers’ markets.”
The Havana Times ran an opinion piece excoriating Cuba for wasting so much money on the Pope’s visit.
“It’s true that in Cuba we are a hospitable people, but the government shouldn’t take resources from its own people to entertain someone else. The government can’t function like acasa particular (where people rent rooms in their house, forcing some family members to double-up for the paying guest).”
Another Havana Times writer called on the Popemobile to deviate from its scheduled path, which was repaved and spruced up to look nice for the Pope, and instead head down the once grand, now “seedy” La Calzada de Jesus del Monte.
The Pope’s trip could see him call on the U.S. to end its embargo of Cuba. For that alone, this is worth watching.