Head of Cuban Catholic Church Speaks Out on Current Issues, Government
According to Jaime Ortega, the head of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the people are demanding economic and political change. The 73-year-old cardinal said the people are talking about deficiencies in Cuba’s socialist system, even comparing it to a Stalinist-style bureaucracy which produces apathetic workers with low productivity.
A former political prisoner himself, Ortega called on Guillermo Fariñas (a dissident who began his hunger strike in February and is currently being fed intravenously at a hospital) to stop his hunger strike while repeating earlier calls by the Cuban Conference of Bishops to the government to respect the lives of prisoners of conscience. He further urged the Cuban government to free all political prisoners.
In response to the harassment of the Ladies in White—wives and relatives of men imprisoned since the 2003 Black Spring crackdown on journalists and government opponents—Ortega responded "There should not be in our history this type of verbal and even physical intolerance". Yesterday was the third Sunday in a row the Ladies were prevented from marching by pro-government and security forces, with the confrontation lasting seven hours.
Now in the worst economic hardship since the collapse of the Soviet Union, due in part to three hurricanes in 2008 and the global economic downturn, Cubans are more anxious than ever for the advent of the Cuban “cambio”. The “very difficult situation” amplifies the national consensus that the government should “make the necessary change quickly” to move towards ending “economic and social difficulties”, Ortega announced. “Its delay produces impatience and unease in the people.”
While his statements are generally cautious, this time he was more direct and blunt. This straightforwardness may reflect increased pressures from the Cuban bishops to speak out on Cuba’s dictatorship, as many other Latin American church leaders have in their respective countries in the past.
Though opinions differ on what changes need to come, the overwhelming demand is that “the necessary changes be made quickly”.
To read more from Cardinal Ortega’s interview with the Catholic monthly newsletter, Palabra Nueva, visit: (http://www.palabranueva.net/contens/pn_notic.htm#1011).
Alex Salamanca is studying Psychology and Political Science with a Sustainability minor at the University of Florida. He is very interested in the post-regime environment and how the country will have to change to meet the demands of the 21st-century.