View of the Museum of Cuban History, Santiago de Cuba, from tonayo's photostream
Palabra Nueva, the online magazine of the Catholic Archdiocese of Havana, has posted a summary of the Catholic Social Week conference that took place June 16 to 19. This was the tenth annual Social Week, attracting a relatively high level of attention because of its scope; the 126 participants included luminaries from Cuba and the diaspora, and the secular as well as Catholic world, including the Vatican Secretary of State. The exchange covered a broad spectrum of themes running from economics to dialogue and reconciliation between Cubans, and the public space of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
The bulletin makes for very worthwhile reading, though the papers delivered by Carmelo Mesa Lago, Jorge Dominguez, Dagoberto Valdez and others are not posted (although Jorge Dominuez made his paper available here). The section on "Dialogue between Cubans" is particularly encouraging and moving, featuring an anecdote shared by Dominguez, professor of Government at Harvard University and its vice provost for international affairs.
Professor Dominguez left Cuba in 1960, and Palabra Nueva relates the story of his return in 1979:
On a tour of Havana he found that the house that had belonged to his grandmother had been occupied by the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC). "My grandmother never complained when, on my return to America ... I showed her a photograph that identified her home as the current office of the FMC. On the contrary, with a sigh she indicated that while she would have much preferred that the house had remained her home, after a long pause she said that if it couldn't be so, then it wasn't so bad that it came to house the Federation of Cuban Women.
Dominguez concluded that dialogue between Cubans and the diaspora is unavoidable and cannot be put off any longer, and that such dialogue will require the generosity of spirit exhibited by his grandmother. Her name, given her in the spirit of reconciliation and hope that Cuba felt in the year of her birth in 1899: Clara Estrella de Paz.
Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, wrote this week that because ten of the Cuban political prisoners newly arrived in Spain signed a letter indicating their opposition to the European Union's lifting the Common Position, that should justify the continuation of the U.S. ban on travel to the island. Since 1996, the Common Position has guided E.U. policy on Cuba, seeking to use "constructive, result-oriented political dialogue" to encourage a transition to democracy. The ex-prisoners' letter calls for Europe to work "to secure for all Cubans the same rights that European citizens enjoy." Among those rights is the right to travel, which Cubans have long been denied by their government.
Diehl, in his effort to draw a hasty (PostPartisan is billed as "a quick take" by Post opinion writers on issues of the day) parallel between the disagreement over European policy with differences over our own, failed to note a great irony: here in the Land of the Free, we are also denied the right to travel -- to Cuba. In fact, four of the signers of the letter to European foreign ministers signed a letter to the U.S. Congress about six weeks ago arguing that the the United States should lift its 50-year-old ban on travel to the island. The reason they have won the world's attention is because they've risked everything to champion the idea that, as the letter to Congress stated, "rights must be protected with rights." The Post's editors might be content, even happy, to trade away our rights in order to emerge victorious from the last conflict of the Cold War, but Cuba's democracy advocates understand that would be a defeat for everyone.
Diehl doesn't seem to be aware that a number of the E.U. letter signers also signed the letter to our Congress. In his "quick take" he'd rather use the E.U. letter as a bludgeon against those -- he calls them "liberals" -- who are calling for an "unconditional lifting of the already loophole-ridden" embargo. (I suppose one of the loopholes Diehl is lamenting is that Congress allows American farmers to sell food to Cuba. But our freedom to make our own choices about visiting Cuba is not.)
But for better or worse, the only Cuba measure being considered by the Congress these days is not about lifting the embargo. The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, H.R. 4645, would end the ban on travel by Americans to Cuba, and would make two small but significant changes in the ways that Cuba pays for the products it buys from American farmers. Its lead sponsors, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jerry Moran of Kansas, can be called liberals only in the Enlightenment sense of the word (don't take my word for it -- check their websites).
We've come to expect these kinds of strawmen from the advocates of the embargo. It is still a surprise to see them on the editorial page of the Washington Post.
The death of María Cristina Herrera, an inspiration for so many of the best scholars observing and writing about Cuba today, is a tremendous loss that did not receive attention here at the Havana Note. Here is Ted Henken's brief reflection on her extraordinary life, from his blog El Yuma.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
RIP María Cristina Herrera
"She believed that it was possible to arrive at national reconciliation through dialogue. For that reason I have an enormous admiration for her. She is irreplaceable." -Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Profesor Emeritus of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.
"She was a veteran in the fight for freedom and reconciliation among all Cubans. Her death comes at the end of a long life fully committed to Cuba and the Catholic Church." -Dagoberto Valdés, Director of the magazine Convivencia and current President of the Instituto de Estudios Cubanos (founded by Herrera).
Anyone involved in Cuban Studies over the past 10, 20, or even 30 years will have become acquainted with the truly fearless and indefatigable María Cristina Herrera. She was a constant presence at Cuba conferences even as her health was gradually failing her.
She founded the Instituto de Estudios Cubanos where she was a tireless advocate in the heart of Miami for dialogue and engagement with Cuba without ever being an apologist for the regime. She kept up her work as her critics tried to defame her with the label "dialoguera" and even after her home was bombed by terrorists trying to silence her.
She would be very pleased at the developments in Cuba over the past few days resulting in the release of a third of Cuba's remaining political prisoners - coming as a result of internal pressure, non-violent opposition, principled dialogue, and strategic engagement.
She passed away on July 3.
RIP María Cristina
Alberto Muller posted this brief tribute to her at his blog.
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and Cardinal Jaime Ortega in Havana
photo: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters
The end of Guillermo FariRas hunger strike, precipitated as it was by Cuba's promise to release a third of its political prisoners, is a very significant development for him, his family, his supporters, and for Cuba.
According to the Washington Post, though, all this is marginal. The editors implore President Obama to condition any major changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba on more "significant" moves. They prefer change that isn't authored by a Castro, which implies that until the government falls and chaos reigns, the U.S. should simply continue its failed policies and keep its head in the sand. And for better or worse, the Post can probably rest easy: the United States has nothing to do with the very positive events playing out in Cuba this week.
Advocates for the status quo (or worse, if they can get it) claim that the negotiations are a help to the Cuban authorities because what is being negotiated is the forced exile of troublesome democracy advocates. But it is still not clear whether these prisoners will be forced to leave Cuba. Catholic Church sources indicate that the bishops are negotiating for the prisoners' right to determine for themselves where they live when released from jail. This is in keeping with their position, maintained for generations, that all Cubans have a role and a responsibility to remain to build a better Cuba. But we don't know yet. Time will tell.
That seems to be the watch word: time. Cubans are talking about Cuban issues. Americans are utterly uninvolved and quite unlikely to lift a finger on Cuba. It seems as if we don't actually want to hear about it. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did tell AP that the Cuban authorities' moves were "very welcome," but most of the statements in recent week from her administration colleagues have been right in line with the Post's viewpoint.
As expected, opponents of policy reform are pulling out all the stops to derail HR 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, scheduled to be considered in the Agriculture Committee this afternoon. And equally expected, they're dusting off their repertoire of misrepresentations.
Take, for example, the effort outlined in a Dear Colleague letter by California's Joe Baca with the newest member of the House Agriculture Committee, Republican from Florida Tom Rooney. Their amendment to Chairman Collin Peterson's bill would remove the travel portion so that the U.S. Government's ban on travel would remain.
Opponents have long signaled that they would seek to strip travel from the bill. Some are now seeking to do so by throwing as much misinformation at the issue as they can, to see what will stick. This speaks to a sense of confidence that only comes with decades of success stifling rational analysis of our policy.
While all these canards are debunked here, the following are a few examples of counter factual overreach, with a reality check for each:
"Opening Cuba to travel would also jeopardize America's national security, as Cuba remains one of only four remaining nations that the State Department considers state sponsors of terrorism."
Backed by more than 130 organizations running from the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union to every variety of commodity group and farm advocates to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and, most recently, 74 members of Cuba's civil society, Peterson's bill would allow Americans to travel to the only country in the world that the U.S. Government says is off limits. It would also end some senseless restrictions on U.S. sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba.
"Moving to end the travel ban and to sell more food to Cuba is not only good for Americans and Cubans, but also critical for restoring relevance to U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Engaging the Cuban people, as this effort would do, will enhance the U.S. image and our effectiveness in the region. This is welcome news to those who think it is long past time to change our outmoded approach to Cuba," said Anya Landau French of the New America Foundation.
Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti in Cuba AP Photo/Javier Galeano
Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Mamberti arrived today in Cuba to a full agenda, responding to a joint invitation from the local Church and the Cuban government to celebrate the 75th anniversary of relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Cuba, and to participate in the tenth annual Semana Social, a conference on social ministry. For the first time, the Archdiocese will simultaneously publish conference events daily on the web.
Archbishop Mamberti's visit comes at a time of great hope but also great sensitivity, given the dialogue underway between Cuban authorities and the Catholic bishops. The focus of that dialogue has been Cuba's political prisoners and their supporters, the Ladies in White, and it has epic dimensions that a Vatican representative will only add to. The participants are opponents with fundamental differences, starting with the way they define the human person. And neither tends to embrace change (or, generally, see the need to).
According to a recent editorial in the Cuban Catholic magazine Espacio Laical, Cuba's challenges include seeking "[a] way for every Cuban to express their views and...strive to achieve a consensus, renew Cuba's anthropological culture, reestablish economic structures, and achieve better relations with the world, including the United States."
A tall order. But the Church sees a role for itself, and not only for the hierarchy. Those goals must be reached despite "the apathy of many and the discordant passions of important sectors" of society. And in that challenge, reads the editorial, "is where the Catholic Church's role will unfold."
The Church can't solve the Cuban government's most serious material challenge: food security. But in a continuing dialogue the Church and State can collaborate on other critical social issues, in a quiet but productive way. The education system is in dramatic decline, and there is deep concern among Cubans that the state can no longer maintain minimal levels of quality. In this sector the Catholic Church finds a theme of enduring interest and competence. Going back nearly two decades, from the earliest days of the resurgence of the Catholic Church in Cuba, it has sought a seat at the table in engaging Cuba's citizens on social issues. Never has the Cuban government had greater need for new allies, and particularly inside the country.
Seventy four of Cuba's best known advocates of democracy released a letter today to "the Honorable Members of the United States Congress" expressing their full and unequivocal support for the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645).
The signatories, including Guillermo Fariñas, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Yoani Sánchez, Dagoberto Valdés and other leading advocates for democracy in Cuba, wrote:
We believe...that if the citizens of the United States, like those of the rest of the world, increased their presence on our streets, visited the families of the political prisoners and other members of the nascent Cuban civil society they could: first, serve as witnesses to the suffering of the Cuban people; second, be even more sensitized to the need for changes in Cuba; and third, offer solidarity and a bridge to facilitate the transition we Cubans so greatly desire.
The supportive presence of American citizens, their direct help, and the many opportunities for exchange, used effectively and in the desired direction, would not be an abandonment of Cuban civil society but rather a force to strengthen it. Similarly, to further facilitate the sale of agricultural products would help alleviate the food shortages we now suffer.
For the entire text of the letter including signers:
Last week saw the encouraging news that a number of Cuba's imprisoned dissidents would be moved to jails closer to their homes (and three of those to medium security centers with better living conditions), this the apparent result of discussions between Cuba's Catholic bishops and President Raul Castro on May 19. As is often the case in Cuba, this good news was quickly followed by bad, as Cuban authorities detained some 37 democracy activists as they sought to reach dissident meetings last Thursday and Friday.
All those detained were quickly released, but the event was a reminder that all too often, progress in Cuba -- when progress is made at all -- is often of the two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back variety. The fragility of progress is such that even the Ladies in White asked their supporters to refrain from joining them for a few weeks "as a show of flexibility" and to support "the promising efforts" being made by the Catholic Church of Cuba with the Cuban government.
Cardinal Ortega preaching in Havana's Cathedral
Late yesterday, June 1, Cuban authorities sent word to the Archdiocese of Havana that six prisoners of conscience were in the process of being moved to prisons closer to their homes. (See stories on AP and Reuters.)
The government's gesture is very limited. While they have moved these six to places more amenable to family visits, there are dozens of others considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience. A number of them are elderly and in ill health. Still, the news will bring hope to the families of these prisoners, and to all who want to see progress on human rights. Elisardo Sanchez, the leader of the Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Cuba, was quoted in CNN as saying these moves might be the "beginning of a process" of improvement for all imprisoned dissidents.
The government did not announce its decision in a press conference, but in a communique to the Archbishop of Havana. Yoani Sanchez in her blog lamented that the church-state dialogue about the prisoners was held without including "the spokespeople of the injured people of Cuba, who have sons, husbands and fathers condemned for political reasons." Indeed, we don't know what was discussed during that four hour meeting on May 19. But the dialogue and modest results so far encourage the belief that Cuba is dynamic, and that there exists a process of negotiation that has developed independently of the narrative of sanctions, of action and reaction, that so thoroughly dominates U.S. politics on Cuba. And it undoubtedly goes beyond the immediate concerns about political prisoners. The discussion between the Church and State in Cuba is a clash of worldviews much more pronounced than that between the United States and Cuba. If the Church can influence Cuba's behavior even in this modest way, this is an avenue that the United States should at least consider.
The Cardinal's internal diplomacy has long confused and enraged the traditional supporters of harshness toward Cuba, and it will not be long before the usual parties minimize the importance of this mild achievement. It would be smarter and more productive to look at the conditions that brought it about, and build on them.