Cuba says willing to advance dialogue with Vatican to find ways to resolve problems

13th February 2023

President Díaz-Canel has been quoted in Granma as saying  that Cuba has the will to advance relations with the Vatican and continue building “with mutual benefit”, roads for “the solution of the expectations of both parties.”

The report which followed a meeting between Cuba’s President and  Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who was visiting Cuba as a Papal envoy,  did not however directly mention the Vatican’s hope that Cuba will offer an amnesty to many of those held after the widespread street protests that took place across Cuba in July 2021 (Cuba Briefing 19 July 2021).

Despite this, the President’s words were widely taken to be a reference to its ongoing dialogue with the Catholic Church about the impact of the arrests, prosecution, and jailing of Cubans since the protests. Earlier the Cardinal had told journalists that “the Pope greatly desires there to be a positive response” from the Cuban government to the requests of the Catholic Church.

During his 23 January to 10 February visit to Cuba which marked the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island, Stella met with the Church’s leadership and congregation in Cuba, senior government and Communist Party officials, and spoke to the media.

A lengthy report of the conversation between the Cardinal and Cuba’s President published in Granma’s print edition on 9 February also referred obliquely to the Vatican’s  present efforts to encourage a dialogue with the US to resolve the two nations differences.

The official publication reported that during the meeting between the two men, Díaz-Canel emphasised the closeness between Cuba, Pope Francis, and the Holy See, noting that Cuba agreed with many of Pope Francis’ ideas; “on how to eliminate inequalities, on how to enhance social justice; (his ideas) against war, for peace, for concern for the environment.”

Thanking Pope Francis for his “criticism of the blockade”, Díaz-Canel was quoted by Granma as expressing gratitude “In the same line of reasoning [for] the efforts deployed by the current Supreme Pontiff” so that “there is a dialogue between the Government of the United States and Cuba, and that we can resolve in a civilised manner the differences we have.” Cuba’s President also recognised the closeness between Pope Francis and former President Raúl Castro.

In an address to the University of Havana attended by Cuba’s President, the Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and other senior figures, Cardinal Stella stressed that “freedom cannot be subordinated to any calculation of interests, circumstances, waiting for better times.”

Cuba he said, “must be free of all interference,” while encouraging “its children to be free men and women,” to allow material and spiritual growth. Stella said that Cuba should “promote reconciliation and fraternity” from “diversity” and not “by similarity of ideas.” What was required, he said, was a “culture of encounter” that encourages the creation of bridges.

Speaking to the media after his address, Cardinal Stella, indicated that the Vatican wanted to see Cuba release those held following the street protests that took place on 11/12 July 2021. Pope Francis “very much wants there to be a positive response” from the Cuban government to the Church’s requests”, he told journalists.

The Catholic Church, he said, had sought in discussion with the Cuban Government an amnesty so that  “young people who at one time have expressed their thoughts … can go home.”

Stella who said that he had spoken to the Pontiff before traveling to  Cuba, was quoted as saying:  “I think the issue is there on the table … The Pope very much wants there to be a positive response, whatever it is called, amnesty, clemency.”

Stella says new dialogue with US must come soon

Asked about a possibility that the Pope might facilitate a new dialogue between the US and Cuba, Cardinal Stella said “”Not only is it possible, it must come. By speaking, solutions can be found, so the Church…lives with great inner longing, that those who have power can talk to each other, they can listen to each other.” “Hopefully it will happen soon and constitute an important step for the many advances that the Cuban people greatly need very much. There are things that must be done and done soon,” he told the media.

Cardinal Stella’s comments came a week after the US Chargé d’Affaires in Havana, Benjamin Ziff, told journalists that any return to the détente that existed  between Cuba and the US under the Obama Administration would be “difficult”  and that “the most serious obstacle to any improvement in the bilateral relationship” continues to be the Cuban government’s imprisonment of protesters and dissidents .

Speaking in Miami on 31 January, he told AP and the Miami Herald that although some measures had recently been put in place to bring families separated by the Florida Straits closer together, Washington did not see any easy return. “It’s hard to go back,” Ziff told AP. “The world has changed from the Obama era and now we have to deal with the world today.”

In his remarks Ziff suggested that the US found it difficult to deal with the island’s authorities, defining “US relations with Cuba as correct and pragmatic.”

Acknowledging that the dialogue  between the two governments had resumed on some issues, he stressed that the most important matter on Washington’s agenda was human rights. “That is our number one priority, to ensure that the Cuban population can have a future without repression and with economic hope,” he told AP.

The  US Chargé  however stressed that “the change in Cuba comes from Cuba, from the Cubans…the United States can support, can help, encourage, advocate, pressure, everything, but basically the future of Cuba depends on the Cubans.”

Photo by Simone Savoldi

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