Cuba Arrests Opponents of Proposed New Constitution

On February 11, Cuban authorities arrested 20 activists of thePatriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) for their promotion of voting “No” in the upcoming  referendum on February 24 on the country’s proposed new constitution.

These arrests of Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) members for their promotion of voting “No” in the upcoming  referendum on February 24 occurred at UNPACU’s headquarters in eight houses in Santiago de Cuba in connection with an early morning assault by over 200 Cuban soldiers and police, who seized computers, printers, telephones and other equipment and records. 

UNPACU’s national coordinator, José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, blasted these arrests: “They attack us, they beat us, they rob us, they torture us and they even want to stave us.”  On February 11 he also started a hunger strike until at least February 24 (the day of the national referendum seeking approval of the new constitution). Three days later at least 25 of the organization’s activists had joined the hunger strike.

There also are reports that José Daniel Ferrer Castillo (the 16-year-old son of UNPACU’s national coordinator) arbitrarily had been detained and beaten. In addition, on February 13, the Cuban police again appeared at UNPACU’s headquarters to harass members of the organization.

UNPACU, which was founded on August 24, 2011, defines itself as a civil organization that advocates the peaceful but firm struggle against any repression of civil liberties in Cuba. According to Amnesty International, it “is an organization that brings together dissident organizations based mainly in Santiago de Cuba, but also in neighboring provinces in the east of the country. Its goal is to achieve democratic change in Cuba by non-violent means. Since its inception . . . its members have suffered harassment and intimidation . . ., including arrests by the authorities.”

According to UNPACU, the proposed new constitution “denies elementary rights, restricts basic freedoms {and Cubans] will continue oppressed and in the deepest misery.” The central reason for this conclusion, it says, is Article 5, which states as follows:

  • The Communist Party of Cuba, unique, Marxist, Fidelist, Marxist and Leninist, organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, based on its democratic character and the permanent bonding with the people, is the superior political force leader of the society and of the State.” (Emphasis by UNPACU.)

==========================================

José Daniel Ferrer: “Either they respect or they kill us,’ Diario de Cuba (Feb. 12, 2019); Marco Rubio on the violent opposition against the UNPACU: ‘More sanctions come to the response,’ Diario de Cuba (Feb. 13, 2019); UNPACU: 25 opponents on hunger strike ‘at least until 24 February,’ Diario de Cuba (Feb. 14, 2019); UNPACU; UNPACU Release, UNPACU calls to vote NO on the new Cuban Constitution; José Daniel Ferrer, Wikipedia.

Raúl Castro’s Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution’s Triumph

On January 1, 2019, the 60st anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Raúl Castro delivered a lengthy address in Santiago de Cuba celebrating that anniversary as well as the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Cuba’s wars of independence from Spain. [1]

Castro said Cuba “will continue to prioritize defense training tasks, at all levels, in the interests of safeguarding independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and peace, based on the strategic concept of the War of the Entire People, as is reflected in the recently approved Constitution of the Republic.”[2]

Also mentioned were the challenges facing the Cuan economy in 2019. It was necessary to “reduce all non-essential expenses and save more; increase and diversify exports; raise the efficiency of the investment process and enhance the participation of foreign investment, which, as stated in the guiding Party documents, is not a complement, but a fundamental element for development.”

In addition, the speech was peppered with the  following negative comments about the U.S. involvement in that history:

  • “Cuba’s victory against Spain “was usurped by the U.S. intervention and the military occupation of the country, which gave way to a long period of oppression and corrupt governments, subservient to its hegemonic designs.”
  • “The Revolutionaries attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953 also was an assault on ‘the crimes and abuses of a bloody tyranny, completely subordinated to the interests of the United States.”
  • “Already on January 8, 1959, upon his arrival in Havana, the Commander of the Revolution [Fidel] expressed: ‘The tyranny has been overthrown, the joy is immense and yet there is still much to be done. We do not fool ourselves into believing that from now on everything will be easy, perhaps from now on everything will be more difficult.'”
  • “On May 14, 1959, Cuba adopted the first Agrarian Reform Law “that upset the powerful economic interests of U.S. monopolies and the Creole bourgeoisie, which redoubled the conspiracies against the revolutionary process.”
  • “The nascent Revolution was subjected to all types of aggressions and threats, such as the actions of armed gangs financed by the U.S. government; assassination plans against Fidel and other leaders; the murder of young literacy teachers, many of them still adolescents; sabotage and terrorism throughout the country with the terrible toll of 3,478 dead and 2,099 disabled; the economic, commercial and financial blockade, and other political and diplomatic measures in order to isolate us; the campaigns of lies to defame the Revolution and its leaders; the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] in April 1961; the October [Missile] Crisis in 1962, when the military invasion of Cuba was being prepared in the United States; and an endless list of hostile acts against our homeland.”
  • “Over 60 years Cuba has has “seen twelve U.S. administrations that have not ceased in the effort to force a regime change in Cuba, one way or another, with varying degrees of aggressiveness.”
  • “Now once again, the U.S. government seems to be taking the course of confrontation with Cuba, and presenting our peaceful and solidary country as a threat to the region. It resorts to the sinister Monroe Doctrine to try to roll back history to the shameful era in which subjugated governments and military dictatorships joined it in isolating Cuba.”
  • “Increasingly, senior officials of the [U.S.] current administration, with the complicity of certain lackeys, disseminate new falsehoods and again try to blame Cuba for all the ills of the region, as if these were not the result of ruthless neoliberal policies that cause poverty, hunger, inequality, organized crime, drug trafficking, political corruption, abuse and deprivation of workers’ rights, displaced people, the eviction of campesinos, the repression of students, and precarious health, education and housing conditions for the vast majority.”
  • “They are the same who declare the intention to continue forcing the deterioration of bilateral relations, and promote new measures of economic, commercial and financial blockade to restrict the performance of the national economy, cause additional constraints on the consumption and welfare of the people, hinder even further foreign trade, and curb the flow of foreign investment. They say they are willing to challenge International Law, to contravene the rules of international trade and economic relations, and aggressively apply extraterritorial measures and laws against the sovereignty of other states.”
  • “The extreme right in Florida . . . has hijacked [U.S.] policy toward Cuba, to the pleasure of the most reactionary forces of the current U.S. government.”
  • “On July 26, [2018] here in Santiago, I explained that an adverse scenario had formed, and again the euphoria of our enemies had resurfaced, and the haste to materialize their dreams of destroying the example of Cuba. I also pointed out the conviction that the imperialist blockade of Venezuela, Nicaragua and our country was tightening. Events have confirmed that assessment.”
  • “After almost a decade of practicing unconventional warfare to prevent the continuity, or impede the return of progressive governments, Washington power circles sponsored coups – first a military coup to overthrow President Zelaya in Honduras, and later they resorted to parliamentary-judicial coups against Lugo in Paraguay, and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.”
  • The U.S. “promoted rigged and politically motivated judicial proceedings, as well as campaigns of manipulation and discredit against leftist leaders and organizations, making use of monopoly control over mass media.”
  • “The aggressive actions [of the U.S.] against [Venezuela] . . . must cease. As we warned some time ago, the repeated declaration of Venezuela as a threat to the national security of the United States, the open calls for a military coup against its constitutional government, the military training exercises undertaken in the vicinity of Venezuelan borders, as well as tensions and incidents in the area, can only lead to serious instability and unpredictable consequences.”
  • “It is equally dangerous and unacceptable that the United States government unilaterally sanctions and also proclaims the Republic of Nicaragua a threat to its national security. We reject the attempts of the discredited OAS, Organization of American States, to interfere in the affairs of this sister nation.”
  • “Faced with the [U.S. recent reassertion of the] Monroe Doctrine, the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed in Havana by Heads of State and Government, which some allies of the United States now seek to disregard, must be applied and defended, for the good of all.”[3]
  • “As expressed by our Minister of Economy and Planning at the last session of the National Assembly, the cost to Cuba of [the U.S. blockade of Cuba is]calculated according to internationally approved methodology, [at] 4.321 billion dollars last year, equivalent to almost 12 million in damages every day, a fact that is overlooked by analysts who tend to question national economic performance.”

Nevertheless, Raúl reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to coexist in a civilized manner, despite the differences, in a relationship of peace, respect and mutual benefit with the United States. We have also clearly indicated that Cubans are prepared to resist a confrontational scenario, which we do not want, and we hope that the levelest heads in the U.S. government can avoid.”

American Journalist’s Assessment of Cuba’s Current Situation[4]

Jon Lee Anderson, an American journalist who has written extensively about Cuba, first stated what he saw as Cuba’s achievements over the last 60 years. It is “stable, having overcome such existential threats as the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and a half-century of diplomatic isolation and withering economic sanctions imposed by the United States.”

Cuba also has “weathered the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main Cold War benefactor, and a slew of traumatic internal ructions including the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and the Cuban raft exodus in 1994. Last but not least, Cuba has managed its first major political transitions, following the death in 2016 of its defining leader, Fidel Castro; the presidential retirement, last year, of his younger brother, Raúl Castro; and Raúl’s succession in office by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, a 58-year-old Communist Party loyalist.”

Most importantly, he says, “the Cuban Communist system shows no sign of collapse.” But it is going through significant changes with greater opportunity to disagree with the government as evidenced by recent changes to regulations affecting the private sector and the arts.

Conclusion

Although I hope that there will be increasing opportunities for Cubans to express disagreement with their government’s policies, I am not as sanguine as Anderson about whether and when there will significant changes on such questions. Like any well-established and large system or organization, such changes are difficult and usually take longer than anticipated by some.

It also is interesting to compare this lengthy speech by Raúl with the shorter and less revealing recent statement by President Diaz-Canel that was mentioned in a prior post. Is this difference significant?

According to a U.S. journalist, the latest version of the proposed new Constitution, if as anticipated it is approved in the February referendum, provides that “the National Assembly must approve a new electoral law within six months after the new Constitution is enacted. Then, within another three months, the National Assembly must choose a new president, vice president and Council of State from among its deputies currently in office.” In addition, the new Constitution would create the new office of Prime Minister, requiring the president to share power. Therefore, it is possible that Diaz-Canel will be President for only a short time.[5]

==========================

[1] Castro, After 60 years of struggle, sacrifices, efforts and victories, we see a free, independent country, the master of its own destiny (Jan. 2, 2019).

[2] The final draft of the proposed Constitution that will be submitted to a referendum in February 2019 is now available online.

[3] In February 2018, the Monroe Doctrine was favorably mentioned, in response to a question by an academic observer, by then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as discussed in an earlier post.

[4]  Anderson,  Cuba’s Next Transformation, N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2019).

[5] Gámez Torres, Cuba could have a new government soon if draft Constitution takes effect, Miami Herald (Jan. 5, 2019).

New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities                                     

On November 8, the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments released regulations imposing new restrictions on U.S. citizens travel to Cuba. Taking effect on November 9, they “are aimed at preventing U.S. trade and travelers from benefiting its military, intelligences and security arms of the Communist-ruled country.” In addition, they require U.S. travelers on “person-to-person” trips “to use a U.S.-based organization and be accompanied by a U.S. representative of the group.”[1]

This blog post will first provide a list of the Treasury Department’s 12 categories of general licenses for approved travel to Cuba, only two of which are directly affected by the new regulations. These two categories will be discussed followed by the new regulations ban on transactions with certain Cuban entities that affects all 12 categories.

Categories of Approved Travel[2]

“Travel-related transactions are permitted by [OFAC’s] general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to the criteria and conditions in each general license: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain authorized export transactions.”

Only the two categories in bold are affected by the new regulations—travel for “educational” reasons (organized and people-to-people) and “support for the Cuban people.”

Formal Educational Travel[3]

OFAC states, “Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions . . . to engage in certain educational activities, including study abroad programs, in Cuba, Cuban scholars to engage in certain educational activities in the United States, and certain activities to facilitate licensed educational programs. U.S. and Cuban universities may engage in academic exchanges and joint non- commercial academic research under the general license. This provision also authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals.

In addition, “educational exchanges, including study abroad programs, sponsored by Cuban or U.S. secondary schools involving secondary school students’ participation in a formal course of study or in a structured educational program offered by a secondary school or other academic institution, and led by a teacher or other secondary school official are authorized. Such exchanges must take place under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative of the sponsoring organization (including the leading teacher or secondary school official) must accompany each group traveling to Cuba. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565(a)(2)(vi). This authorization allows for participation of a reasonable number of adult chaperones to accompany the secondary school students to Cuba.”

“People-to-People” Educational Travel[4]

“OFAC is amending the general license for people-to-people educational activities in Cuba to remove the authorization for individual people-to-people educational travel. This general license now authorizes, subject to conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

“The predominant portion of the activities must not be with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338.”

“A person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative of the sponsoring organization must accompany each people-to-people educational group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. Individuals traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her recordkeeping obligations with respect to the requirements described above. OFAC is amending this general license to exclude from the authorization direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List.”

Support for the Cuban People” Travel[5]

“This general license authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, which include activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. OFAC is amending this general license to require that each traveler utilizing this authorization engage in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba. OFAC is also amending this general license to exclude from the authorization certain direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.574.”

“ Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.”

Ban on Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities[6]

The new regulations also ban U.S. travelers and businesses from transactions with “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.” The regulations include a list of forbidden hotels, including Havana’s “Manzana Kempinski, which opened with great fanfare this year as Cuba’s first hotel to meet the international five-star standard.”

This “Cuba Restricted List,” which will be maintained and updated by the State Department, has the following categories of organizations (and the number of entities in each category): Cuban Ministries (2) ; Cuban Holding Companies (including CIMEX,GAESA, Gavotte and Companies Touristic Habituate S.A.) (5) ; Hotels in Havana and Old Havana (27); Hotels in Santiago de Cuba (1); Hotels in Varadero (13); Hotels in Pinar del Rio (2); Hotels in Baracoa (7); Hotels in Cayos de Villa Clara (15); Hotels in Holguín (11); Hotels in Jardine’s del Rey (5); Hotels in Topes de Collates (3); Tourist Agencies (2); Marinas (5); Stores in Old Havana (10);  Entities Directly Serving the Defense and Security Sectors (38); Additional Subentries of CIMEX (16); Additional Subentities of GAESA (13); Additional Subentries of GAVIOTA (4); and Additional Subentries of HABAGUANEX (1).

Conclusion

All of these new regulations are meant to implement President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, which he signed on June 16, 2017, at an event in Miami Florida.[7]

=======================================

[1] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury, Commerce, and State Implement Changes to the Cuba Sanctions Rules (Nov. 8, 2017); U.S. Treasury Dep’t (Office of Foreign Assets Control), Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (updated Nov. 8, 2017); Reuters, Trump Administration Tightens Sanctions Against Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Takes Steps to Make It Harder for Americans to Visit Cuba, N.Y. times (Nov. 8, 2017); DeYoung, White House implements new Cuba policy restricting travel and trade, Wash. Post (Nov. 8, 2017).

[2] U.S. Treasury Dep’t (Office of Foreign Assets Control), Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (updated Nov. 8, 2017).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2017 (Nov. 8, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions on the Cuba Restricted List (Nov. 8, 2017).

[7]  White House, Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017). This Memorandum and the Miami event were discussed in a prior post.

 

More Cuban Arrests of Dissidents

On Human Rights Day (December 10) the U.S. State Department launched an international campaign calling on 10 governments around the world to free 10 political prisoners. Such Political prisoners, the U.S. said, “should be free to believe. They should be free to be loved. They should be free to be home.”

One of them is Cuban Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who is ‎”affiliated with the Cubalex Legal Information Center, an NGO that works to provide citizens with free legal assistance. On September 23, authorities arrested Julio during a raid on the organization’s Havana office, where they also confiscated office equipment and files, and even strip-searched some of the staff. He had a suspended three-year sentence from allegedly falsifying public documents, a charge which civil society groups say is politically motivated. Julio Alfredo’s family didn’t know his whereabouts for several days after the arrest, but he has since been able to communicate with his daughter.”[1]

There also have been recent arrests of other Cuban dissidents.[2]

On December 18, in Santiago de Cuba, the police raided the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba and eight other homes of activists in that city, Havana and Palma Soriano.

A total of 115 UNPACU dissidents were arrested. This included their leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. As of December 20, several were still detained and two, Lisandra Rivera Rodríguez and José Luis Álvarez Chacón, were allegedly charged with alleged “attempted” crimes.

In addition, the police seized UNPACU laptop computers, CDs, cell phones and other equipment used by the dissidents.

Members of another dissident group, Ladies in White, were arrested this past Sunday and prevented from attending mass at a Catholic church, and on December 20 more than 40 such members were detained and prevented from attending a Literary Tea in Central Park in Old Havana.

===================================================

[1] A prior post discussed the raid and arrests at Cubalex.

[2] Ferrer, UNPAC and the homes of several activists, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2016); The regime breaks its own repressive marks: 115 UNPACU activists were detained on Sunday, DiariodeCuba (Dec. 20, 2016); Some 30 Ladies in White arrested in Havana and Matanzas, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2016); More than 40 Ladies in White detained in Havana to prevent them from attending a literary tea, DiariodeCuba (Dec. 20, 2016).

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

Pope Francis’ fourth and last day of his mission to the Cuban people (Tuesday, September 22) was spent that morning in and near Santiago de Cuba, at the eastern end of the island.[1]

The Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre

Mass @ Cobre

Cobre

 

 

 

 

 

At the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, a small village just outside Santiago, Pope Francis celebrated mass. Above are photographs of the Pope at the mass and of the Basilica. Here is the text of his homily.

“The Gospel we have just heard tells us about something the Lord does every time he visits us: he calls us out of our house.  These are images that we are asked to contemplate over and over again.  God’s presence in our lives never leaves us tranquil: it always pushes us to do something.  When God comes, he always calls us out of our house.  We are visited so that we can visit others; we are encountered so as to encounter others; we receive love in order to give love.”

“In the Gospel we see Mary, the first disciple.  A young woman of perhaps between fifteen and seventeen years of age who, in a small village of Palestine, was visited by the Lord, who told her that she was to be the mother of the Savior.  Mary was far from ‘thinking it was all about her,’ or thinking that everyone had to come and wait upon her; she left her house and went out to serve.  First she goes to help her cousin Elizabeth.  The joy which blossoms when we know that God is with us, with our people, gets our heart beating, gets our legs moving and ‘draws us out of ourselves.’  It leads us to take the joy we have received and to share it in service, in those ‘pregnant’ situations which our neighbors or families may be experiencing.  The Gospel tells us that Mary went in haste, slowly but surely, with a steady pace, neither too fast nor so slow as never to get there.  Neither anxious nor distracted, Mary goes with haste to accompany her cousin who conceived in her old age.  Henceforth this was always to be her way.  She has always been the woman who visits men and women, children, the elderly and the young.  She has visited and accompanied many of our peoples in the drama of their birth; she has watched over the struggles of those who fought to defend the rights of their children.  And now, she continues to bring us the Word of Life, her Son, our Lord.”

“These lands have also been visited by her maternal presence.  The Cuban homeland was born and grew, warmed by devotion to Our Lady of Charity.  As the bishops of this country have written: ‘In a special and unique way she has molded the Cuban soul, inspiring the highest ideals of love of God, the family and the nation in the heart of the Cuban people.’”

“This was what your fellow citizens also stated a hundred years ago, when they asked Pope Benedict XV to declare Our Lady of Charity the Patroness of Cuba.  They wrote that ‘neither disgrace nor poverty were ever able to crush the faith and the love which our Catholic people profess for the Virgin of Charity, for whom, in all their trials, when death was imminent or desperation was at the door, there arose, like a light scattering the darkness of every peril, like a comforting dew…, the vision of that Blessed Virgin, utterly Cuban and loved as such by our cherished mothers, blessed as such by our wives.’”

“In this shrine, which keeps alive the memory of God’s holy and faithful pilgrim people in Cuba, Mary is venerated as the Mother of Charity.  From here she protects our roots, our identity, so that we may never stray to paths of despair.  The soul of the Cuban people, as we have just heard, was forged amid suffering and privation which could not suppress the faith, that faith which was kept alive thanks to all those grandmothers who fostered, in the daily life of their homes, the living presence of God, the presence of the Father who liberates, strengthens, heals, grants courage and serves as a sure refuge and the sign of a new resurrection.  Grandmothers, mothers, and so many others who with tenderness and love were signs of visitation, valor and faith for their grandchildren, in their families.  They kept open a tiny space, small as a mustard seed, through which the Holy Spirit continued to accompany the heartbeat of this people.”

“Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288).

“Generation after generation, day after day, we are asked to renew our faith.  We are asked to live the revolution of tenderness as Mary, our Mother of Charity, did.  We are invited to ‘leave home; and to open our eyes and hearts to others.  Our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy that always becomes closeness and compassion, and leads us to get involved in, and to serve, the lives of others.  Our faith makes us leave our homes and go forth to encounter others, to share their joys, their hopes and their frustrations.  Our faith, ‘calls us out of our house;’ to visit the sick, the prisoner and to those who mourn.  It makes us able to laugh with those who laugh, and rejoice with our neighbors who rejoice. Like Mary, we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth, that goes forth from its chapels, its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be a sign of unity.  Like Mary, Mother of Charity, we want to be a Church that goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation.  Like Mary, we want to be a Church that can accompany all those ‘pregnant’ situations of our people, committed to life, to culture, to society, not washing our hands but rather walking with our brothers and sisters.”

“This is our most valuable treasure (cobre), this is our greatest wealth and the best legacy we can give: to learn like Mary to leave home and set out on the path of visitation.  And to learn to pray with Mary, for her prayer is one of remembrance and gratitude; it is the canticle of the People of God on their pilgrimage through history.  It is the living reminder that God passes through our midst; the perennial memory that God has looked upon the lowliness of his people, he has come the aid of his servant, even as promised to our forebears and their children for ever.”

Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral of Santiago

Following the Mass, the pope traveled to Santiago in the popemobile, waving to throngs lining the streets. In the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral of Santiago, he met with families. Below our photographs of the Pope at this Cathedral.

Pope Santiago

Pope&childSantiago

 

 

 

 

 

The Pope was welcomed to Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral by The Archbishop of Santiago and the president of Cuba’s Council of Bishops, Dionisio Garcia Ibáñez, who described the challenges facing Cubans divided by emigration, economic pressures and a breakdown of family ties. He said, “Young people with families today want to have children but so often their plans turn into a problem, because so many young people have emigrated, or are separated for reasons of employment, or economic struggles, housing shortages.” He added that Cuba’s low fertility rate and population decline “leaves our country to grow old” and “destabilizes families. Our families want to be strengthened by your message of encouragement and hope.”

The Pope responded, “Thank you, Cubans, for making me feel part of a family, for making me feel at home, in these days. . . . To conclude my visit with this family gathering is a reason to thank God for the ‘warmth’ spread by people who know how to welcome and accept someone, to make him feel at home. Thank you! I am grateful to Archbishop Dionisio García of Santiago for his greetings in the name of all present, and to the married couple who were not afraid to share with all of us their hopes and struggles in trying to make their home a ‘domestic church.’ John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus worked his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, at a family party. There he was, with Mary, his Mother, and some of his disciples, taking part in a family celebration.”

“Weddings are special times in many people’s lives. For the ‘older folks’– parents and grandparents–it is an opportunity to reap the fruits of what they have sown. Our hearts rejoice when we see children grow up and make a home of their own. For a moment, we see that everything we worked for was worth the effort. To raise children, to support and encourage them, to help them want to make a life for themselves and form a family: this is a great challenge for all parents.”

“Weddings, too, show us the joy of young spouses. The future is open before them, and everything ‘smacks’ of new possibilities, of hope. Weddings always bring together the past that we inherit and the future in which we put our hope. They are an opportunity to be grateful for everything that has brought us to this day, with the same love which we have received. Jesus begins his public life at a wedding. He enters into that history of sowing and reaping, of dreams and quests, of efforts and commitments, of hard work which tills the land so that it can yield fruit. Jesus began his life within a family, within a home. And he continues to enter into, and become a part of, our homes.”

“It is interesting to see how Jesus also shows up at meals, at dinners. Eating with different people, visiting different homes, was a special way for him to make known God’s plan. He goes to the home of his friends, Martha and Mary, but he is not choosy; it makes no difference to him if they are publicans or sinners, like Zacchaeus. He didn’t just act this way himself; when he sent his disciples out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God he told them: Stay in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide (Lk 10:7). Weddings, visits to people’s homes, dinners: those moments in people’s lives become ‘special’ because Jesus chose to be part of them.”

“I remember in my former diocese how many families told me that almost the only time they came together was at dinner, in the evening after work, when the children had finished their homework. These were special times in the life of the family. They talked about what happened that day and what each of them had done; they tidied the house, put things away and organized their chores for the next few days. These were also times when someone might come home tired, or when arguments or bickering might break out.”

“Jesus chooses all those times to show us the love of God. He chooses those moments to enter into our hearts and to help us to discover the Spirit of life at work in our daily affairs. It is in the home that we learn fraternity, solidarity, and not to be overbearing. It is in the home that we learn to receive, to appreciate life as a blessing and to realize that we need one another to move forward. It is in the home that we experience forgiveness, that we are continually asked to forgive and to grow. In the home there is no room for ‘putting on masks:’ we are who we are, and in one way or another we are called to do our best for others. That is why the Christian community calls families ‘domestic churches.’ It is in the warmth of the home that faith fills every corner, lights up every space, builds community. At those moments, people learn to discover God’s love present and at work.”

“In many cultures today, these spaces are shrinking, these experiences of family are disappearing, and everything is slowly breaking up, growing apart. We have fewer moments in common, to stay together, to stay at home as a family. As a result, we don’t know how to be patient, we don’t know how to ask permission or forgiveness, or even to say ‘thank you,’ because our homes are growing empty. Empty of relationships, empty of contacts, empty of encounters.”

“Not long ago, someone who works with me told me that his wife and children had gone off on vacation, while he remained home alone. The first day, the house is completely quiet, ‘at peace,’ and nothing was out of place. On the third day, when I asked him how things were going, he told me: I wish they would all come back soon. He felt he couldn’t live without his wife and children.”

“Without family, without the warmth of home, life grows empty, there is a weakening of the networks that sustain us in adversity, nurture us in daily living and motivate us to build a better future. The family saves us from two present-day phenomena: fragmentation (division) and uniformity. In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies that are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds, the loss of those relationships which make us who we are, which teach us to be persons.”

“The family is a school of humanity that teaches us to open our hearts to others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. Amid all the difficulties troubling our families today, please, never forget one thing: families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity. An opportunity that we have to care for, protect and support.”

“We talk a lot about the future, about the kind of world we want to leave to our children, the kind of society we want for them. I believe that one possible answer lies in looking at yourselves: let us leave behind a world with families. No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children, but this does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for families, true centers of humanity. I do not want to end without mentioning the Eucharist. All of you know very well that Jesus chose a meal to be the setting for his memorial. He chose a specific moment of family life as the “place” of his presence among us. A moment that we have all experienced, a moment we all understand: a meal.”

“The Eucharist is the meal of Jesus’ family, which the world-over gathers to hear his word and to be fed by his body. Jesus is the Bread of Life for our families. He wants to be ever present, nourishing us by his love, sustaining us in faith, helping us to walk in hope, so that in every situation we can experience the true Bread of Heaven.”

“In a few days I will join families from across the globe in the World Meeting of Families and, in less than a month, in the Synod of Bishops devoted to the family. I ask you to pray in a particular way for these two events, so that together we can find ways to help one another and to care for the family, so that we can continue to discover Emmanuel, the God who dwells in the midst of his people, and makes his home in our families.”

Before leaving Santiago, the Pope blessed the city from a balcony in front of the Cathedral, directly across historic Cespedes Park. He said, “A people that takes care of its grandparents, its children and its poor has its triumph secured.”

Conclusion

Santiago, in eastern Cuba, also carries deep ideological symbolism as the birthplace of Fidel Castro’s revolution in the 1950s. From the very same balcony just used by Francis, for example, Fidel in 1959 proclaimed the victory of the Revolución.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. (EST) the Pope finished his mission to the Cuban people when his airplane left Cuba bound for Washington, D.C. and the start of his mission to the American people. On the plane, the Pope, in response to a journalist’s question, said that the lifting of the U.S. embargo (blockade) was part of the ongoing bilateral negotiations and that he would not make specific comments on the subject. However, he said, “Both presidents have spoken; I hope that an agreement which satisfies both parties is reached.”

After I have written about Francis’ mission to the American people, I will study and pray about Francis’ remarks to the two peoples in order to make my own analysis of these wonderful missions by a humble, merciful, charming man of God.[2]

==============================================

[1] Montgomery & Miroff, Pope wraps up Cuba visit with call for ‘revolution of tenderness,’ Wash. Post (Sept. 22, 2015); Pope Francis in Cuba: Minute by minute, Granma (Sept. 23, 2105); Pope Francis reflects on blockade of Cuba, Granma (Sept. 23, 2015); Pentin, Full Text of Pope’s Homily at Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba, Nat’l Cath. Reg. (Sept. 22, 2015); Jervis, The pope pays a visit to El Cobre and the Virgin Mary, USA Today (Sept. 22, 2015); Pope Francis in Cuba—Holy Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Vatican Radio (Sept. 22, 2015)(video); Text of the Pope’s speech to families in Santiago, Cuba, Rome Reports (Sept. 22, 2015); Pope in Cuba: ‘A Child Is a Source of Hope. . . I Bless the Children in the Womb,’ Nat’l Cath. Reg. (Sept. 22, 2015).

[2] Previous posts have covered Pope Francis’ first, second and third days of his mission to the Cuban people.