Act of Repudiation
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    Cuban cardinal says too little, too late

    Posted on Thursday, 04.22.10
    Cuban cardinal says too little, too late

    After many years of shameful passivity, Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church
    leader is finally beginning to speak out against the most blatant abuses
    of Cuba’s dictatorship. But he may be doing it too timidly and too late.

    Earlier this week, the head of Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal
    Jaime Ortega, made uncharacteristically strong statements in an
    interview published by the Church’s official magazine, Palabra Nueva
    (New Word). There were headlines around the world proclaiming, “Cuban
    Church demands changes.”

    Ortega, 73, said that Cuba is going through “the most difficult times
    that we have lived in the 21st Century,” and that there is a growing
    national consensus that “necessary changes be made in Cuba quickly.”

    In the interview, the cardinal addressed the international turmoil
    around the recent death of Orlando Tamayo, a
    who died after an 85-day hunger strike.

    Ortega repeated earlier calls by Cuba’s Conference of Bishops that the
    government respect the lives of prisoners of conscience, and asked
    Guillermo Fariñas, a who is being fed intravenously at a
    since he stopped eating in February, to abandon his hunger strike.

    According to the cardinal, the role of Cuba’s Church should be to
    “invite all sides to moderation.”

    “The tragic death of a because of a hunger strike has
    triggered a verbal war from U.S., Spanish and other media,” the
    cardinal stated. “This strong media campaign contributes to
    exacerbating the crisis even more. It’s a form of media , to
    which the Cuban government responds in its own way.”

    Media violence? I asked myself when I read those lines. Is he blaming
    the international media for reporting the death of a hunger striker who
    was rotting in for voicing his opinions? Is he accusing the world
    media of reporting the plight of Fariñas, who stopped eating to demand
    that the Cuban regime release the 26 of more than 200 prisoners of
    conscience who require urgent medical care?

    Is the cardinal blaming international media for noting that Cuba puts
    people in jail for peacefully voicing their opinions? Is the cardinal
    criticizing foreign journalists for pointing out that, unlike the United
    States at the Guantánamo prison camp, Cuba does not allow the
    International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons?

    Intrigued, I called Fariñas to ask him about his reaction to Ortega’s
    statements. Fariñas was obviously glad that the cardinal had gone a
    little bit farther than usual in his statements, but wasn’t exactly elated.

    The cardinal’s statements “were timid,” Fariñas told me. “He himself
    was a political prisoner once, and he knows how political prisoners are
    being mistreated, how they are being beaten by the same people who are
    in power today.”

    Why do you think Ortega is so timid? I asked. “Because the Church
    hierarchy does not want to lose the handful of benefits that it has
    gotten from the government, such as permission to do seminars, some
    spaces on the radio and occasional appearances on television. I’m
    talking about the Church hierarchy because we can’t say the same of the
    priests in the countryside.”

    Fariñas concluded that “the Church should put out a stronger statement
    about what’s going on in Cuba. It should specifically refer to the
    `repudiation acts’ against the Ladies in White. So far, it has not said
    that these acts of violence can only take place when they are ordered by
    the regime’s top authorities.”

    My opinion: Judging from the format and content of the cardinal’s
    remarks — a seemingly informal interview with the Church’s magazine —
    I would not be surprised if Ortega was under pressure from his own
    bishops to be a little bit more explicit than he has been so far.

    From my own interviews with Cuban bishops and priests in the past, I
    know for a fact that many of them regard Ortega as too soft on Cuba’s

    They — and Fariñas — are definitely right. Latin America’s Roman
    Catholic Church has a long history of priests who spoke out courageously
    against oppressive regimes, and in some countries, such as El Salvador
    and , they paid for that with prison, torture and even death.

    Ortega will go down in history as a Church leader who shied away from
    that basic mission. His statements are welcome, but he’s no hero in my book.

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