Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Vatican's diplomacy, and ours

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, has concluded a very well timed, week-long visit where he acted as a diplomat, exchanging views with Cuban autorities, and as a pastor, addressing himself to Cuban Catholics and clergy. Sometimes he acted in both capacities at once, urging the Cuban government to take actions that would favor Cuba’s church and its laity.

He met Cuba’s president and foreign minister, and traveled all around the country. His itinerary is linked here. What follows is some news about the visit, some of which only appeared in Spanish.

Cardinal Bertone inaugurated a statue of Pope John Paul II in Santa Clara; his remarks on this and other occasions during the visit are at the Cuban bishops’s website.

Cardinal Bertone told a Vatican news agency (via Reuters) that the church has been promised “more openings in written media and radio, and in certain exceptional cases, even television.” Cautiously, he noted, “It always starts with promises.”

He did not ask “directly” for the release of political prisoners, but according to AP he told reporters that with “utmost respect for the sovereignty of the country and its citizens, I expressed to President Raul Castro the Church's worries for prisoners and their families.” (Scroll down to the next post for his views on the U.S. embargo.)

Instead of returning directly to Rome, Cardinal Bertone stopped in Madrid, where he spent a few hours at the airport, met Deputy Foreign Minister María Jesús Figa and celebrated mass. According to the Madrid newspaper ABC, Spain advised the Vatican in advance of the Cardinal’s visit to Cuba, and the airport discussions covered human rights and a general review of the Cardinal’s trip.

In Cuba, dissident leader Oswaldo Paya lamented that Cardinal Bertone gave an “impression of satisfaction” (complacencia) with the government that “is not just with the Cuban people and the Cuban church, and there is no reason not to say that in Cuba there are political prisoners, who are in prison for defending truth and human rights.”

In Miami this week, it’s not hard to find much harsher criticism of him and the Vatican.

In fact, Cardinal Bertone seems follow the approach that President Bush takes in Beijing. In 2006 President Bush said he soft-pedals his public remarks about the communist Chinese leadership because “nobody likes to be lectured in the public arena.”

The Vatican, more than any state, has a long-term perspective. In Cuba it is engaged in face-to-face diplomacy, in support of a local church that steadily presses for more space to preach the Gospel and carry out works of charity. Its diplomacy, like President Bush’s, may be quiet in public, but that is hardly reason to question either’s commitment to human rights. In any event, the Vatican’s views on the “false messianic idea” of “atheistic communism” have long been clear.

Diplomatic contact is not going to transform Cuba, but I’ll bet that in time, the Vatican’s approach will help Cuba’s church to gain more space to do good works for Cubans, believers and non-believers alike.

This week, the U.S. intelligence community again noted that Cuba is stable and that while one can imagine a less stable scenario, signs of it are not on the horizon.

Other governments apparently share this assessment and are using their diplomacy to advance their interests and values. Spain, the EU, and Canada all engage with Cuba, building contacts and communication while addressing human rights. Brazil has offered political and economic support. Mexico is normalizing relations with Havana. On the other side of the fence, Venezuela and China have their strategies too.

Cardinal Bertone’s visit and his direct flight to Madrid are only the latest indicators of where the United States finds itself in this diplomatic picture: out of it.

[Photos of cathedrals in Santa Maria del Rosario, Santiago, and Bayamo.]


Anonymous said...

We are totally out of it. Cubans will not forget this. At least from my experiences with real cubans in cuba, they resent the US approach toward Cuba. Hard-liners in Miami argue otherwise, however, if you go to Cuba and just talk to everyday people, you'll see that the most beloved coutnry in Cuba is spain, Canada, etc. - those countries that engage instead of demand. just the facts.

Anonymous said...

"I’ll bet that in time, the Vatican’s approach will help Cuba’s church to gain more space to do good works for Cubans, believers and non-believers alike."

in time? what, like another 50 years?

Anonymous said...

Oh, so the Vatican speaks softly to the regime, but denounces US policy. Won't wash.