By: Eduardo Peñalver
I've been traveling for the past two weeks, which explains my lack of posts. A couple of weekends ago I was in Cuba to meet with Oswaldo Paya, a pro-democracy activist and the man behind the Varela Project, an ingenious petition drive that sought to take advantage of a provision of the 1976 socialist constitution to push for peaceful political reform in Cuba.
During my visit, we spoke at some length about the role of the Church in Cuba, a topic on which I have posted in the past. Although Paya is a committed Catholic, his opinion of the approach the hierarchy (both at the Vatican and in Cuba) has taken towards the Castro government and, by extension, towards dissidents in Cuba, was not a favorable one. The Church has been so eager to avoid persecution in Cuba that it has bent over backwards in recent years to avoid confrontation with the Castro government and has distanced itself from dissident groups on the island.
This is in some ways similar to the approach the hierarchy has often taken towards repressive right-wing governments in Latin America. And it is scandalous in both instances. Critics of the Church's political role in Latin America have sometimes attributed its comfort with reactionary regimes to its opposition to communism. But Cuba stands as a counter-point. Here we have a fairly doctrinaire communist regime -- a regime whose policies clearly contradict the Church's teachings on the inhumanity of communism -- and the Church's stance is one of accommodation. What seems to unite the Church's position, both in Cuba and elsewhere, is a desire for stability and a fear of disrupting the status quo.
I am not suggesting that the Church should involve itself directly in a movement for political change in Cuba. There are, however, many steps the Church could take short of direct political engagement. The Church might, for example, provide dissidents with access to means of communication, both within Cuba and between Cuba and the outside world. I do not want to try to speak for him, but Paya seemed clearly frustrated that one of the few private spaces in Cuba, one of the few remaining independent institutions in an eviscerated Cuban civil society, has essentially shut its doors to groups calling for political reform on the island.