The leader of the Catholic Church in Cuba, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, released an interview on Monday which not only affirmed the autonomous nature of the Catholic Church in Cuba but also called for the immediate action in addressing Cuba’s current economic crisis.
Cardinal Ortega’s interview appeared in “Palabra Nueva” or “New Word,” the official magazine of the Catholic Church in Cuba. The discussion began with commentary surrounding a recent meeting between leaders of various religious organizations and the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cuban government. Members of the Catholic Church were invited to the meeting but declined to attend because the Church’s place in society is not to seek “strategic alliances” with the government, stated Cardinal Ortega.
Additionally, “I think the only thing that we have in common with these animist or associative religious groups is that we are all attended to by the same office of Religious Affairs,” he declared.
The Archbishop of Havana went on to say that “the action of the Church within society pertains to the order of rights and the right to religious freedom is recognized clearly within the Constitution effective in Cuba. It is under the frame of this Constitution that the Church, according to her own identity and methodology, develops her mission in Cuba of working for the common good.”
Cardinal Ortega also noted that solutions to the current social and economic situations are currently the subject of much debate in the Cuban press. “Many people are talking about socialism and its limitations. Some of them propose a reformed socialism while others refer to concrete changes that must be made by leaving behind the old Stalinist bureaucratic state. Others talk about the indolence/laziness of the workers and the low levels of productivity, etc.”
The “fundamental common denominator” among all of the debaters, expressed the Cuban cardinal, is that changes be made in Cuba without delay. "I think this feeling has become a form of national consensus, and its delay is producing impatience and unease among the people.”
The island, which is not unaffected by the global economic recession, is also suffering from a global downturn in tourism. “The difficulties of the economic-financial crisis made their appearance just as three hurricanes struck Cuba, leaving many losses,” noted Cardinal Ortega.
The interview also made a correlation between the current economic troubles and the half-century long trade embargo. Cardinal Ortega criticized President Barack Obama for failing to open new dialogue between the United States and Cuba as he had promised to do before he was elected. Since he took office, Obama has chosen to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by demanding Cuba institute democratic reforms and improve human rights before any dialogue is initiated, the cardinal explained.
“Once again, the old (American) policy prevails: to begin at the end," Cardinal Ortega said. "I am convinced that the first thing should be to meet, talk and advance a dialogue. ... That is the civilized way to confront any conflict."
The prelate also called upon the government to protect the lives of dissidents and other political prisoners. "With respect to political prisoners, the church has historically done everything possible to have them freed, not just those that are sick, but others, too," Cardinal Ortega said, before calling on Guillermo Fariñas, a political prisoner currently on a hunger strike, to end his protest, which Ortega called “a form of mediated violence, to which the Cuban government will react in its own way.”
His comments come in wake of the death of Orlando Zapata, a dissident and political prisoner who died in February while on a hunger strike. Cardinal Ortega’s call to end the hunger strikes has been echoed by Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement.