The Second Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the Cuban People

On Sunday, September 20, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated mass in Havana’s Plaza de Revolutión before a crowd of thousands. In attendance were Cuban President Raúl Castro and other government officials. The Pope also had separate private meetings with Fidel and Raúl Castro and later presided at a vespers service and met with a group of young people.[1]

Celebration of Mass in Plaza de la Revolución

Mass

Crowd @ mass

 

 

 

 

The above photos show the large crowd at the Sunday morning mass at Plaza de la Revolución. In his homily Francis said, “The Gospel shows us Jesus asking a seemingly indiscreet question of his disciples: ‘What were you discussing along the way?’  It is a question he could also ask each of us today: ‘What do you talk about every day?  What are your aspirations?’  The Gospel tells us that the disciples ‘did not answer because on the way they had been arguing about who was the most important.’  The disciples were ashamed to tell Jesus what they were talking about.  As with the disciples then, we too can be caught up in these same arguments: who is the most important?”

“Jesus does not press the question.  He does not force them to tell him what they were talking about on the way.  But the question lingers, not only in the minds of the disciples, but also in their hearts.”

“Who is the most important?  This is a life-long question to which, at different times, we must give an answer.  We cannot escape the question; it is written on our hearts.  The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question.”

“Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; he is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for.  On the contrary, he knows the ‘twists and turns’ of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us.  As usual, he takes up our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon.  As usual, he somehow finds the answer which can pose a new challenge, setting aside the ‘right answers,’ the standard replies we are expected to give.  As usual, Jesus sets before us the ‘logic’ of love.  A mindset, an approach to life, which is capable of being lived out by all, because it is meant for all.”

“Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality.  The horizon to which Jesus points always has to do with daily life, also here on ‘our island.’ something which can season our daily lives with eternity.”

“Who is the most important?  Jesus is straightforward in his reply: ‘Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all.’  Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others.

“Here lies the great paradox of Jesus.  The disciples were arguing about who would have the highest place, who would be chosen for privileges, who would be above the common law, the general norm, in order to stand out in the quest for superiority over others.  Who would climb the ladder most quickly to take the jobs that carry certain benefits.”

“Jesus upsets their ‘logic.’ their mindset, simply by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbor.”

“The call to serve involves something special, to which we must be attentive.  Serving others chiefly means caring for their vulnerability.  Caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people.  Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love.  With a love that takes shape in our actions and decisions.  With a love that finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform.  People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve.  Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it.  That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable.”

“There is a kind of ‘service’ that truly ‘serves,’ yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a ‘service’ that is ‘self-serving/’  There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping ‘my people,’ [or] ‘our people.’  This service always leaves ‘your people’ outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.”

“All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a ‘service’ that is really ‘self-serving.’  All of us are asked, indeed urged, by Jesus to care for one another out of love.  Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing.  Jesus tells us: Whoever would be first among you must be the last, and the servant of all.  He does not say: if your neighbor wants to be first, let him be the servant!  We have to be careful to avoid judgmental looks and renew our belief in the transforming look to which Jesus invites us.”

“This caring for others out of love is not about being servile.  Rather, it means putting our brothers and sisters at the center.  Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ in trying to help.  Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas. We serve people.”

“God’s holy and faithful people in Cuba are a people with a taste for parties, for friendship, for beautiful things. It is a people who marches with songs of praise.  It is a people who has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur.  Today I ask you to care for this vocation of yours, to care for these gifts that God has given you, but above all I invite you to care for and be at the service of the frailty of your brothers and sisters.  Do not neglect them for plans that can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you.  We know, we are witnesses of the incomparable power of the resurrection, which ‘everywhere calls forth the seeds of a new world.’”

“Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation, and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters.  Here we encounter one of the fruits of a true humanity. ‘Whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live.’”

“We have heard in the Gospel how the disciples were afraid to question Jesus when he spoke to them about his passion and death.  He frightened them, and they could not grasp the idea of seeing Jesus suffer on the cross.  We too are tempted to flee from our own crosses and those of others, to withdraw from those who suffer.  In concluding this Holy Mass, in which Jesus has once more given himself to us in his body and blood, let us now lift our gaze to the Virgin Mary, our Mother.  We ask her to teach us to stand beside the cross of our brothers and sisters who suffer.  To learn to see Jesus in every person bent low on the path of life, in all our brothers and sisters who hunger or thirst, who are naked or in prison or sick.  With Mary our Mother, on the cross we can see who is truly “the greatest” and what it means to stand beside the Lord and to share in his glory.”

“Let us learn from Mary to keep our hearts awake and attentive to the needs of others.  As the wedding feast of Cana teaches us, let us be concerned for the little details of life, and let us not tire of praying for one another, so that no one will lack the new wine of love, the joy that Jesus brings us.”

“I ask you now to join with me in praying to Mary, that we may place all our concerns and hopes before the heart of Christ.  We pray to her in a special way for those who have lost hope and find no reasons to keep fighting, and for those who suffer from injustice, abandonment and loneliness.  We pray for the elderly, the infirm, children and young people, for all families experiencing difficulty, that Mary may dry their tears, comfort them with a mother’s love, and restore their hope and joy.  Holy Mother, I commend to you your sons and daughters in Cuba.  May you never abandon them!”

Although the Pope had no direct remarks regarding political issues facing Cuba, he did mention the ongoing peace negotiations in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels. He said, “I feel bound to direct my thoughts to the beloved land of Colombia, ‘conscious of the crucial importance of the present moment when, with renewed effort and inspired by hope, its sons and daughters are seeking to build a peaceful society.’ May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict, united to that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation.  Thus the long night of pain and violence can, with the support of all Colombians, become an unending day of concord, justice, fraternity and love, in respect for institutions and for national and international law, so that there may be lasting peace.  Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation.” He also added a word of gratitude to President Raul Castro for his efforts to assist the negotiations.

Meeting with Fidel Castro

The Pope & Fidel
The Pope & Fidel

In the early afternoon Francis met with Fidel Castro for about a half-hour at the former Cuban leader’s home. The conversation was reported to be informal and took place in the presence of Castro’s children and grandchildren.

In the Pope’s gifts for Fidel were a collection of sermons by Castro’s former Jesuit teacher, the Rev. Amando Llorente, and two CD recordings of the priest, who was forced to leave Cuba soon after Fidel took power in 1959 and who died in Miami in 2010. Other papal gifts were two books by an Italian priest, Alessandro Pronzato, and copies of Francis’ papal encyclical “Praise Be” and his book, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Francis’ biographer, Austen Invereigh, thinks the Llorente materials were sending a subtle message to Fidel, whose rule was marked by conflict with the Catholic Church and other groups.

Castro gave Francis a collection of his own conversations about religion with Brazilian priest Frei Betto: “Fidel and Religion: Castro Talks on Revolution and religion with Frei Betto” (1988),

Meeting with Raúl Castro

Pope + Raul@ PalceRaul +Pope

 

 

 

 

Later in the afternoon the Pope met with President Raúl Castro and other government officials at the Palace de la Revolutión as shown in the above photographs. The President showed Francis what appear to be official gifts for the Pontiff on display inside the Palace: a huge crucifix made of oars and a painting of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

Before their private meeting at the Palace, Pope Francis was heard saying to Castro: “In the first place I want to thank you for the warmth of the reception, the fact that in your speech you’ve cited things that really send a signal of (inaudible) and warmth. I also want to thank you for the pardons [of 3,522 prisoners].”

Vespers Service

Pope Francis @ Cathedral
Pope Francis @ Cathedral

That evening Francis presided over a vespers service in Havana’s 18th century Immaculate Conception and San Cristobal Cathedral.

He did not read his prepared homily, but instead spoke extemporaneously on the importance of poverty to the Roman Catholic Church. “Our dear mother church is poor. God wants it poor, as he wanted our Holy Mother Mary to be poor. The spirit of the world does not follow the path of the son of God who emptied himself and became poor to be like us.”

He also warned of the dangers of falling prey to the temptations of wealth. “When possessions enter the heart and guide your life, you have already lost, you are no longer like Jesus. He quoted St. Ignatius when he said that poverty was the mother and also the wall of consecrated life. Pope Francis summoned the spirit of dispossession, to leave everything behind in order to follow Jesus.

Meeting with Young People

Francis finished his busy day with a meeting with hundreds of young people at the Félix Varela Cultural Center, which is the former San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary and which is not far from the Cathedral.

The young people presented him for blessing a cross that will accompany them during World Youth Day in 2016, and one of them said, “Our great strength lies in maintaining solidarity at all costs to help us to overcome any obstacle.” Their representative then welcomed the Pope to Cuba, saying “the Cuban youth love you.”

In his message to the young people, Francis cited the words of a Latin American writer: “People have two eyes, one of flesh and the other made of glass, with the one of flesh we see what we are looking at, with the one made of glass we see what we dream.” The ability to dream must be included within the objectivity of life. “He who cannot dream is not young.” Dream that the world may be different, if you give the best of yourselves you will help to have a different world. “ Do not forget to dream,” he insisted.

A family is destroyed by enmity, a country destroyed by enmity, the world is destroyed by enmity. And the biggest enmity is war,” the Pope stated. We all must have respect for differences and work together for the common good. Let’s negotiate, but not kill the world anymore. We are killing the ability to unite, to create social friendship.”

“To you, young Cubans, although you have different views, I want you to be accompanied, seeking the future and the dignity of your homeland together. At the end something even better awaits you, the sweet hope of the motherland we want to achieve. I will pray for you and ask you to pray for me, and if one cannot pray because he is not a believer, at least, wish me good things. May God bless you all.”

Conclusion

Once again I am impressed and moved by the words and actions of Pope Francis. He has a constant message of humility, love and forgiveness for individuals and nations. I give thanks to God for Francis!

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[1] Yardley & Ahmed, Pope Francis Celebrates Mass at Political Heart of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015); Reuters, Pope Celebrates First Mass in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015) (video); Assoc. Press, Pope in Cuba Begs Colombia, Rebels to End Conflict, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015); Assoc. Press, The Latest: Pope Presides Over Vespers Service in Cathedral, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015); Reuters, Pope Meets Fidel Castro, Warns Against Ideology on Cuba Trip, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2015);Assoc. Press, The Latest: Pope speaks of importance of poverty to the church, Wash. Post (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución (+ Photos), Granma (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope Francis in Cuba: Minute by minute, Granma (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope in Havana: prays for success of Colombian peace talks, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope in Cuba: serve rather than be served, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope meets former Cuba president Fidel Castro, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015); Pope at Vespers: Be a poor and merciful Church in Cuba, Vatican Radio (Sept. 20, 2015).

 

Minnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba

Minnesota continues to be a national leader in promoting our country’s reconciliation with Cuba. The latest participant in this campaign is the Minnesota Orchestra, which will play two concerts at Havana’s Teatro Nacional on Plaza de la Revolucion [1] on May 15 and 16.

Plaza de la Revolucion
Plaza de la Revolucion
Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional

At the invitation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with the Cuban National Choir and Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez. The also will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, and other numbers to be announced.

Minnesota Orchestra
Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vanska
Osmo Vanska
Frank Fernandez
Frank Fernandez

These concerts will be part of the 19th annual Cubadisco Festival, which also encompasses one of the most important recording competitions in Cuba. The focus this season is symphonic and choral music. The Orchestra also will participate in community engagement activities.

The Orchestra will be the first U.S. orchestra to visit the island nation since President Obama’s December 17th announcement of steps to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The Orchestra’s Concertmaster Erin Keefe said, “We are humbled to be a part of the exciting process of reestablishing America’s cultural ties with the nation of Cuba. This tour represents a unique chance to bring two cultures together through music, and we could not be more grateful for the opportunity.”

Now I will solicit the Orchestra members to participate in Minnesotans for U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation.

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[1] The Plaza is the 31st largest public square in the world; it measures 72,000 square meters (774,936 square feet) and has been the site for crowds of 1 million for major speeches by Fidel Castro and for a mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II.

Rejection of Criticism of Cuba’s Cancellation of Open-Microphone Event in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución and Arrests of Its Organizers

Tania Bruguera
  Tania Bruguera

On December 30th Cuban authorities cancelled an open-microphone event at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución and detained or arrested its organizers. The principal detainee was Tania Bruguera, a Cuban citizen who lives on the island and in Miami, Florida and who is a performance artist. She intended to provide an open-microphone for any attendee to give a one-minute statement on his or her opinions and recommendations for Cuba’s future.

This cancellation and related arrests have provoked strong condemnation from the U.S. Department of State and major U.S. newspapers. Initially I was persuaded by such condemnations and worried that they would foster U.S. political resistance to recent U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. After further investigation, however, I have come to reject such harsh condemnations. In order to understand this conclusion, this post will examine what happened in Havana, the reactions from the State Department and western newspapers and then the reasons why I reject such condemnations.

Cuban Events Relating to the Open-Mike Performance[1]

Plaza_de_la_Revolution

Plaza3

On December 30th Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera was planning to stage an open-microphone event, “Yo tambien exijo,” [I also demand],” in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, the huge public square usually reserved for large government-sponsored events.[2] (The photo on the top shows an empty Plaza while the other one has a large crowd in attendance.) She planned to give any attendee a one-minute platform to discuss his or her opinions about, and recommendations for, Cuba’s future. She told the U.S. National Public Radio that she wanted “people in the street [to] come and share . . . [their] doubts, [their] happiness – whatever [they] think right now about what is happening in Cuba, and what is the idea of Cuba that [they] want?”

Bruguera was proceeding with these plans even though her application for a permit had been denied and even though the Government’s National Fine Arts Council had told her that it would not be providing her with institutional support for the event as proposed because it “would negatively impact public opinion, in a key time of negotiation between the Cuban government and the government of the United States.”

On December 30th the Council issued a public statement documenting its decision not to support the event. It said, “Under current circumstances, it is unacceptable performing this purported performance in the symbolic space of the Plaza of the Revolution, especially considering the extensive media coverage and manipulation that has been in the media broadcasters counterrevolution.”

The Council, however, also stated that Bruguera had rejected its suggestions on conducting the event subject to the following conditions: (a) move the event to the National Museum of Fine Arts, a prestigious cultural institution in the field of visual arts; (b) the Museum would be freely open to diverse people of dissimilar social sectors; (c) the government would “reserve the right” to bar people whose “sole interest is to be provocative;” and (d) the performance would be limited to 90 minutes.

Just hours before the planned event, Cuban police detained, on public disorder charges, Bruguerea and at least three leading dissidents: Antonio Rodiles, the head of Citizens Demand for Another Cuba; Eliezer Avila, the leader of the opposition group Somos Mas; and Reinaldo Escobar, a senior editor of a dissident website 14medio.com. Escobar’s spouse, Blogger Yoani Sanchez, was also detained at her home by police. There were reports that up to 50 members of the political opposition were detained.

Ms. Bruguera was released the next afternoon along with most of the political dissidents. She then announced she would hold a news conference and public gathering on the Malecón, Havana’s coastal highway, at the memorial to the Maine, the American battleship that sank in Havana Harbor in 1898. Cuban agents, however, stopped her en route to the gathering and took her away for interrogation. She was told she could not leave Cuba “for two or three months” while the case was being processed. Again she was released.

However, on January 1, 2015, she was arrested again along with several dissidents when they went to a jail to demand the release of 15 additional dissidents who had been arrested on the day of the planned event. The next day (January 2) she was released.

Reactions to the Cancelation and Arrests

On December 30th, the U.S. Department of State issued a Press Statement saying the U.S. was “deeply concerned about the latest reports of detentions and arrests by Cuban authorities of peaceful civil society members and activists . . . [and] strongly condemn[ed] the Cuban government’s continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom expression, and intimidate citizens.”

The Statement added, “Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are internationally recognized human rights, and the Cuban government’s lack of respect for these rights, as demonstrated by today’s detentions, is inconsistent with Hemispheric norms and commitments. We urge the Government of Cuba to end its practice of repressing these and other internationally protected freedoms and to respect the universal human rights of Cuban citizens.”

The Statement concluded that the U.S. has “always said we would continue to speak out about human rights, and as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions, just like their fellow members of civil society throughout the Americas are allowed to do.”

Also on December 30th Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson tweeted “Freedom of expression remains core of US policy on #Cuba; we support activists exercising those rights and condemn today’s detentions.”

These views were shared by the New York Times’ December 30th editorial, “Cuba Turns Off Critics’ Open Mike.” It said, “By stifling critical voices, the Cuban government is showing its unwillingness to tolerate basic freedoms most citizens in the hemisphere enjoy.”

The Times’ editorial continued, “This move, unfortunately, will amplify the criticisms of those who opposed Mr. Obama’s historic shift on Cuba policy. Heavy-handed tactics by the Castro government will give them ammunition next year, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, to stymie the Obama administration’s steps to ease the embargo through executive authority and dim the prospects of legislative change to pare back the web of sanctions Washington imposes on Cuba. That result would be a shame and, in the long run, self-defeating for Havana.”

The editorial on the same subject by the Washington Post, which earlier opposed the December 17th reconciliation, was in the same vein. It stated, “[T]he Castro regime has been left free to continue stifling dissent, while reaping the economic and political benefits of Mr. Obama’s ‘engagement.’ Raúl Castro declared in a speech shortly after the agreement was announced that the Communist political system would remain unchanged. Two weeks later, not one of the 53 political prisoners the White House said would be freed — about half of the total identified by human rights activists — has been reported released.”

The Washington Post editorial concluded, “Cubans who seek basic freedoms continue to be arrested, harassed and silenced, while the regime celebrates what it portrays as ‘victory’ over the United States. If support for the Cuban people and American values is supposed to be the point of this process, then it is off to a very poor start.”

People opposed to the resumption of relations with Cuba were quick to hold up the arrests as a sign that the Castro government had no intention of pursuing political change and would reap only economic benefits from Mr. Obama’s moves. For example, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a Cuban-American, tweeted, “Castro govt. arrests of activists in #Havana exposes the folly of new Obama #CubaPolicy.”

Rejection of the Condemnation

As a long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union and as a pro bono attorney in one of its important free speech cases, I am a strong believer in the importance of free speech. Therefore, I initially concurred in the State Department and New York Times’ condemnation of Cuba’s cancellation of this event and related arrests, and I worried that this controversy might cause the U.S. to abandon the recently announced U.S.-Cuba reconciliation.

On the other hand, I was and continue to be troubled by the State Department and most of the articles about this event not mentioning the Cuban Fine Arts Council’s willingness to support the event in another location and with certain limits. This action by the Arts Council suggests at a minimum that the State Department and western media are over-reacting to these events and unfairly rushing to judgment.

These U.S. critics also forget that governmental authorities in the U.S. sometimes determine that it is not appropriate to stage a protest at a particular time and place. It just happened in my home state of Minnesota at the Mall of America (MOA) on a big shopping day (December 20th). Although MOA officials had told the organizers that it was against its policies for them to hold a “Black Lives Matter” protest at the Mall on that day,[3] they did so anyway as this video shows. After 2,000 to 3,000 protesters flooded a Mall rotunda and held “die-ins” in front of several nearby businesses, riot-gear-clad police officers arrested 25 for trespass, peacefully dispersed the crowd and tried to block people from re-entering the rotunda. Afterwards the local city attorney announced plans “to file additional charges against ‘ringleaders’ of the protest and to seek restitution for the costs of 250 police at the event and lost sales during the two to three hours when more than 75 stores in the mall were closed.” On January 5th some of the protesters spoke against such prosecution at a city council meeting. This story obviously is not yet over.

In addition, there is a report that raises the much more serious question of whether the event was an idea of Cubans acting by themselves. According to the Wall Street Journal, an opponent of reconciliation with Cuba, at the scheduled time for the event, “Cuban cellphones received mysterious messages from a Florida area code offering cheap beer to all those gathering on the plaza.” This was confirmed in an interview by U.S. National Public Radio with Marc Frank, a U.S. journalist who was one of about a dozen people at the Plaza at the time of the planned event. He said, “text messages were sent from somewhere in Miami to a lot of cell phones here, including mine, basically saying that there’s going to be an event at the Plaza de la Revolución, and there’d be free beer.” Frank added that “Tania is an artist, lives some in Cuba and mainly in Miami, . . . [but] she’s not really well-known in Cuba at all.”[4]

These messages about free beer in the Plaza from a Miami telephone number raise the question of whether the event was actually being planned by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or another U.S. government agency or by Cuban-Americans opposed to the reconciliation of the two countries.

As discussed in prior posts, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) had funded via a private contractor at least three covert (or as the agency prefers to say “discreet”) programs in Cuba to promote civil society and dissent or regime change, all without the prior knowledge or consent of the Cuban government. One was for U.S. citizen Alan Gross to take communications equipment to Cuba, for which he was arrested, convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for violating its laws.[5] Another such USAID program via a private contractor unsuccessfully tried to create a Cuban social media program Yet another used Central Americans to promote purported HIV informational efforts on the island. The final one that has been discovered so far by journalists again via a private contractor attempted to infiltrate the Cuban rap-artist community.

These USAID programs were sharply criticized in a November New York Times editorial, as discussed in an earlier post. The editorial said, ““Far from accomplishing . . . the goal [of instigating democratic reforms on the island], the initiatives have been largely counterproductive. The funds have been a magnet for charlatans, swindlers and good intentions gone awry. The stealthy programs have increased hostility between the two nations, provided Cuba with a trove of propaganda fodder and stymied opportunities to cooperate in areas of mutual interest.”

Instead, the Times’ November editorial argued, “The United States should strive to promote greater freedoms on the island of 11 million people and loosen the grip of one of the most repressive governments in the world. Instead of stealth efforts to overthrow the government, American policy makers should find ways to empower ordinary Cubans by expanding study-abroad programs, professional exchanges and investment in the new small businesses cropping up around the island. They should continue to promote Internet connectivity, but realize that accomplishing that goal on a large scale will require coordination with the Cuban government.” Moreover, “Washington should recognize that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society. That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”

Perhaps the Times forgot this editorial when it more recently lambasted the Cuban actions over the “open-microphone” event.

In any event, the U.S. government apparently has not learned the lesson outlined by the Times in October because the USAID website, which says it was last updated on December 16 (the day before the announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation), still contains general information about its Cuba programs to “[p]romote human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In addition, on December 22, 2014 (five days after that announcement), the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor issued a Public Notice of its “Request for Statements of Interest: Program Fostering Civil, Political and Labor Rights in Cuba.” The Bureau’s prospective funding of $11 million would be used for typically funded proposals, the Bureau said, like “[o]rganizational assistance to Cuban civil society to improve management, strategic planning, sustainability, and collaboration of local civil society groups; [o]ff-island trainings, short-term fellowships, or engagement; [d]istribution of software that would be easily accessible in an open society; . . . [and] ]a]ssistance mechanisms designed to provide independent Cuban civil society with tools, opportunities, and trainings that civil society counterparts in open societies can access.”

Both the USAID and State Department statements read as if they are promoting programs in Cuba without the knowledge, cooperation or agreement of the Cuban government. This is contrary to President Obama’s statement in his nationally televised speech on December 17th, in which he said the U.S. would “raise those differences [with the Cuban government] directly . . .[such as] democracy and human rights in Cuba. But I believe we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement [with the Cuban government].” He added, “no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there.”

Similar thoughts were expressed the same day in the White House’s FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba.” It said, “We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.” It also stated, “The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”

Although President Obama apparently was talking about encouraging the Cuban government to expand the Cuban people’s rights to express different opinions on what their government should do, a prior post shows some ambiguity in these statements that could allow the continuation of the USAID and State Department’s covert or “discreet” efforts to promote regime change.

If the open-microphone event, in fact, was orchestrated by USAID or some other U.S. government agency, it is Orwellian. Such programs purport to promote democracy and human rights with undemocratic and non-human rights means. Such programs are publicly mentioned—in very general terms—on U.S. government websites yet are conducted covertly or “discreetly” on the island. Such programs are hostile to a country with which the U.S. purportedly is attempting to build a normal and respectful diplomatic relationship. These programs also logically motivate Cuban authorities to be vigilant in reacting to events like the “open-microphone” one.

In other words it is horribly stupid and unwise to have such behind-the-back programs when the two countries are embarking on a long and complicated path for full reconciliation. As the New York Times said in November, the U.S. “should recognize that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society. That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”

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[1] This account of the planned event and the arrests by the Cuban government is based on articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street JournalGuardian, Los Angeles Times,  National Public Radio, the Cuban Fine Arts Council and again the New York Times.

[2] The Plaza is the 31st largest public square in the world; it measures 72,000 square meters (774,936 square feet) and has been the site for crowds of 1 million for major speeches by Fidel Castro and for a mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II. The idea that the open-microphone event might create such a large crowd should have been seen as ridiculous by everyone, including the Cuban authorities, and a small gathering like the 12 or so that showed up on the 30th would have demonstrated the over-reaction of the those authorities in shutting it down and the State Department and western media in attacking the shut-down.

[3] Before the protest the local city (Bloomington) sent a letter to the protest organizers warning that the city would enforce the mall’s private-property rights under the authority of a Minnesota Supreme Court decision that held the MOA was a private entity with the right to exclude demonstrators.

[4] The Director of Security Operations at Telecommunications Company of Cuba reported that since December 21st Cuba had been receiving electronic messages calling for participation in an event with Tania Bruguera. These messages came from a platform “Wake Cuba,and these messages were similar to previous ones paid for by USAID.  Another Cuban source states that some Cuban email addresses were hacked and used to send emails to Cubans about this event.

[5] Gross on December 17th was released from Cuban prison and returned to the U.S.