Cuba’s Catholic bishops today issued a pastoral letter (text available here) calling for Cuba’s reform process to go faster and farther, and for it to include reforms in the political sphere.
Pastoral letters don’t read like political texts, and this one is no exception. It is based on the idea of hope, an “invitation to the hope that is part of our Christian faith, of good will, and of the necessity and the duty to seek among Cubans a better future for all.”
The bishops recall three events that sparked hope and revived faith: the nationwide pilgrimage of the statue of the Virgin of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint, during last year’s 400th anniversary celebration, and two papal visits. The virgen mambisa’s processions from town to town, the letter says, brought out “priest and engineer, military and civilian, police and prisoner…[and] the government official and he who considers himself an opponent.” As a result of John Paul II’s visit, “many dusted off the religious memory that had been dormant or hidden for some time and not a few discovered, and others rediscovered, the Truth that does not change.” The visit of Pope Benedict, the bishops say, came “as if God wished to insist on his love for this people.”
They also recall that the papal visits went beyond religion and treated “the human and social dimension of the church’s evangelizing mission.” They quote Benedict calling on Cubans, “with the weapons of peace, forgiveness, and understanding, to fight to build an open and renewed society, more worthy of man, more reflective of God’s goodness.”
Then the bishops get to the issue of liberty: When it comes to options for promoting the common good, the church “defends and promotes freedom of man with responsibility.” “All humanity, and within it we Cubans,” they continue, “are called to enjoy that freedom wished by God that permits man to obtain for himself and his family the fruits of decent labor and to participate in the decisions that affect them in their personal, familial, and social future.”
Without naming any government in particular, the letter notes that some governments, “in the past and today, may generate groups in power that do not always represent everyone and do not interest themselves in those outside the circle to which they belong.” Government, it continues, “has the obligation to seek the wellbeing of all citizens and the best way to achieve that is taking into account the just interests of each group…This is how paternalism of the state is avoided…The participatory state should definitively replace the paternalistic state…One should not fear the development of a strong and responsible social autonomy…”
The letter continues specifically about Cuba: “In the incipient reforms that are starting we see a clear reflection, albeit incomplete, of demands long felt by the Cuban people. We see some changes, for example the return of secondary schools to the cities [i.e. the near-complete elimination of boarding schools for students as young as 12]…the freeing of persons imprisoned for their political ideas and other causes, the distribution of farmland for cultivation, the elimination of certain restrictions that assaulted the dignity of citizens in that they limited the very freedom of Cubans, such as prohibitions on staying in hotels, creating a small private or family business, selling or buying properties, or traveling abroad, etc.”
“We want to see in all this,” the bishops continue, “the start of a process of ever-wider reforms for the good of the people and new generations of Cubans.” They say the need is great, because the public, having seen some reform, urgently wants more; many young people “still don’t see the conditions to carry out their life plan” and think of emigrating; and “as Cubans and as pastors” it is painful to see “such extensive poverty still in our country…even while there exists a social concern to care for those confronted by this situation.” “In Cuba, moreover, to this type of poverty we should add that of some social groups that normally should not suffer it,” such as engineers, farm workers, doctors, teachers, and others. And they shift from human dignity to basic economic sense: “Any reform plan should count on these human riches that have also cost and today cost the nation in terms of resounces.”
The bishops call for a “new political order.” “As has been occurring in the economic sphere, we believe that in our Cuban reality it is indispensible to bring national legislation in the political sphere up to date.” “Cuba is called to be a plural society,” they continue. “There should be a right to diversity with respect to thought, creativity, and the search for the truth. From diversity emerges the need for dialogue. Dialogue between Cubans opens a way toward hope.”
Finally, they address relations with the United States, a subject they have addressed many times, always opposing U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. Today’s letter quotes John Paul II on the subject, saying that “imposed isolation affects the people indiscriminately, worsening the difficulties of the weakest in basic areas such as nutrition, health, and education.” He called for an end to “unjust and ethically unacceptable measures imposed from outside.” The bishops call for “an inclusive policy, with respect for differences, that permits the alleviation of tension and suffering that afflicts numerous persons and families, and also commercial trade that is fair and oriented toward the benefit of all.”
So there’s quite a few messages in there. For the Cuban government: the dignity of the person and the development of the economy require not only more and deeper economic reform, but a political reform too that permits real pluralism in the society and in the political system. And for President Obama: if you care about openings in Cuba, you can help with a fundamental reorientation of United States policy.