After Papal Visit, Nothing in Cuba Will Change / Ivan Garcia
Posted on September 20, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 18 September 2015 — After enjoying a strong espresso,
sixty-eight year old Samuel Quijano lights a hand-rolled cigarette and
looks at the sky, hoping for a sign of rain.
Quijano is the owner of a small parcel of land, located one and a half
kilometers from the National Highway, where he grows vegetables, beans
and has a row of tired banana trees.
“The drought is killing the land. It seems like a curse from God. There
isn’t enough rain to produce good crops. The animals get sick and die
from hunger and thirst. We’ll see if Pope Francis performs a miracle and
brings us rain,” says Samuel, who is tending an emaciated cow as she
forages on a small hillside.
The farmer has been attending Mass for a couple of years, more out of
boredom than curiosity or devotion. “You have to believe in something.
If not, you’re empty as a person,” he notes.
His personal history is interwoven with the political operations led by
Fidel Castro. “It’s two steps forward and two steps backwards, and no
one understands what’s going on,” he says. “I was a soldier in Angola.
Being a Catholic back then was like being a dissident now. I really
don’t know what will come out of the Pope’s visit. I’ll settle for some
Seventy-two hours before the Supreme Pontiff lands in Havana, most
people do not seem to be paying much attention. The go about their
business, running around town in search of food and looking for ways to
earn a few extra pesos to supplement their meager family incomes.
The military regime is getting ready to welcome the Argentine pope. On
Tenth of October Street, a brigade of state workers is plastering the
bare windows of state-run store with posters of Pope Francis in front of
a Cuban flag.
Jorge Bergoglio will be received like a Missionary of Mercy. For the
past two weeks there has been a steel platform lined with wood and
surrounded by red, white and blue flags standing ready in the Plaza of
Flanking the impromptu sanctuary is the bust of Cuba’s “apostle,” Jose
Marti, and to the left of the papal platform is an outsized hologram of
the Argentine guerrilla Che Guevara.
Some of the capital’s thoroughfares through which the vicar of Rome will
pass have been spruced up. Carlos III Avenue and Reina Street have been
given a coat of cheap paint while Havana’s majestic cathedral has
undergone a thorough restoration.
“Whenever a pope visits, the same thing happens. They fix up the
outsides, but the insides of houses are still screwed up. The government
only cares about appearances,” says a peanut vendor outside the old
hardware store Feito y Cabezon on busy Reina Street.
As usually happens in state visits that the regime wants to highlight,
employees at businesses, schools and official institutions in Havana
have been summoned to Pope Francis’ first Mass on September 20.
Eugenio, an ETECSA employee, has his doubts. “On the one hand, there is
the tremendous heat. When the Mass is over at eleven or twelve, the sun
will be baking the pavement. Meanwhile, the Pope will go off to have a
gourmet lunch while everyone else will go home to heat up leftovers from
the night before. Maybe I’ll go, especially since my boss told us he
would provide a snack, which I can later sell for forty pesos (around
two dollars),” he says.
Trucks and bulldozers hurriedly collect tons of trash and garbage piled
onto city streets. Workers from Public Health carry out fumigation raids
on the Aedes aegypty mosquito, the carrier of dengue hemorrhagic fever,
a disease which has almost become a national pandemic.
Although Pope Francis enjoys wide popularity in Cuba, there are segments
of the population which are still waiting for recognition from the Holy
A large mid-twentieth century house in the La Vibora neighborhood serves
as headquarters for a Yoruba association.
Ernesto Sanabria, a babaloa — an indigenous priest — with twenty-seven
years experience and a member of this organization, is fanning himself
with an old magazine. He ponders why, given the fact that the followers
of Afro-Cuban religions like himself outnumber Cuba’s Catholics by three
to one, “none of the last three popes had shown any interest in meeting
with the diverse religious denominations on the island. It’s unacceptable.”
The local dissident community also feels like it is not being heard.
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, has asked to meet with the
Pope. So far, she has received no reply.
The perception among dissidents is that Francis, like John Paul II and
Benedict XVI, will not meet with them in order to avoid angering the regime.
Loose phrases by Pope Francisco that speak of freedom and democracy make
up the politically correct part of the mass. The other is liturgy and
For his part, Raul Castro granted amnesty to 3,522 prisoners and it is
likely he will return a handful of properties confiscated from the
church in the early 1960s.
Everything else will remain the same. The church will not be given a
role in eduction or public health. Its periodicals will still have only
a limited circulation and its social projects will still be marginalized.
Meanwhile, farmers like Samuel Quijano believe the Supreme Pontiff can,
through his blessing, bring the rain the crops need. On the other side
of the ring, dissidents like Berta Soler are asking the Catholic church
to join in the calls for democracy and freedom for some fifty political
But the Vatican does not do miracles. The pope is only God’s messenger
on earth. We will have to keep praying.
Source: After Papal Visit, Nothing in Cuba Will Change / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba –