The Pope’s Risky Strategy
All of us, whether or not Christian and Catholic, will extend a hearty welcome to Pope Francis when he arrives for an extended tour of the U.S. after another sojourn in Cuba.
There is no doubt about his success in prying open the dictatorship there to accommodating the Church after the Castro regime subjected it to decades of persecution and enforced atheistic indoctrination. Saving souls is the paramount concern of Christ’s Vicar on Earth and it is the interest of all that he begins the long process of bringing Cuba’s once religious people back into the body of Western civilization where they always belonged.
But it is in regard to the future of Cuba and its people, and especially their relationship to the U.S. from the founding of their independent republic breaking out of the Spanish Empire, that we have growing concern. True enough, Pres. Barrack Obama had made it one of his campaign promises that he would remake the U.S.-Cuban relationship. But it was the meditation by the Pope which facilitated the sharp break in Washington’s relationship with the Castros’ Cuba.
We are in the first stages of the new relationship. So far, as alas! in other “transformations” which Obama has worked on American foreign policy, the results are less than encouraging.
At a moment, when Cuba was losing its last and most recent helpmate, Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela with its concessions on oil, Obama has thrown the Castro brothers a lifeline. But it is hard to see what benefits the U.S. – or the Cuban people – have received from the renewal of diplomatic relations. Persecution of critics of the regime continues and civil liberties are still abused as they have been for more than half a century. In fact, at the very time Washington and Havana were renewing relations, Raul Castro was throwing new political prisoners in jail.
Media reports now say that the Pope has taken it on himself to further his campaign for American-Cuban reconciliation by adding his weight to the movement to life the trade embargo’s last restrictions. Sources at the Vatican report the Pope, as many of its advocates in the U.S., see the formal embargo as a principal barrier to improving the Cuban economy. And, they add weight to the Castros’ contention that it is the embargo and not their Soviet-style policies which have brought on the virtual collapse of an economy with what was once the highest per capita income in Latin America.
The truth is that the embargo is now largely a fiction. Cuban-Americans cash remittances to relatives totaled $2.6 billion in 2012. In addition, Cuban Americans send at least $700-million annually in medicine, medical devices, agricultural products and consumer goods to relatives back home, from TVs and computers to toilet paper and T-shirts. Nearly 100,000 American citizens already visited the island in 2012 through a variety of specialized visa programs.
Raul Castro at 84 will likely soon have to give way, as his brother Fidel, five years older, has already had to do, to new rulers in their dictatorial state. There is little evidence to predict what that changeover of the regime would be, except to assume that it would be to Raul’s closely tied military.
But lifting the embargo now, without major steps toward liberalization of the regime, would not be a step toward improving the life of the Cuban people. Cuba has been open to Canadian and European trade and investment during most of the Castro Era at the same time the economy has deteriorated. Increased trade would have to be based on massive American credits, the next step after lifting the embargo, credits which would end up in the pockets of the Castro gang and likely produce little by way of improving the life of the Cuban people.
Before the Vatican embarks on this new campaign, in all sincerity if naïve attempt to aid the Cuban people, the long Church courtship of the Franco Dictatorship and the misery he kept the Spanish people for four long decades ought to be recalled.