OUR CARIBBEAN: Revealing pledge by Cuba’s president
GUIDED BY varied experiences of national, regional and international developments, readers of this column may have long come to accept the adage that in politics all things are possible – at times quite remarkable and encouraging.
For me, the public declaration this past weekend by Cuba’s President, Raul Castro, after an audience with Pope Francis at The Vatican, that he intends to resume praying and return to the faith he was born into, was both remarkable and historic.
It is certainly a political rarity coming from an avowed Cuban communist revolutionary leader and long-standing head of government in Havana – who had fought alongside his internationally renowned elder brother, Fidel Castro, to achieve the momentous Cuban revolution of 56 years ago, to now publicly and modestly share his soul-searching spiritual way forward and to give credit to the leader of the global Catholic world in so doing.
Raul Castro, head of Cuba’s Communist Party and president of the revolutionary republic of Cuba, had journeyed to The Vatican on his way home following his visit to Moscow to join Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, for that country’s ritual celebration of its own recognised vital role in achieving World War II Victory Day.
President Castro wanted to offer his personal face-to-face “thanks” to Pope Francis for the Argentine-born pontiff’s quite significant involvement in quietly brokering last year’s historic accord with President Barack Obama’s administration to end Washington’s cruel, punishing, isolationist policy of Cuba on an unprecedented 53-year-old economic blockade.
A quartet of small nations of our Caribbean Community had played a significantly creative role in undermining that very punishing isolationist policy against little Cuba, as instituted by superpower United States.
The four small independent English-speaking countries involved were Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. They had jointly established non-resident diplomatic relations with the Fidel Castro-led revolutionary government in Havana while other nations in this hemisphere were playing footsy with changing administrations in Washington.
That was a visionary political act by this small region which bridges the “two Americas”. It had laid the foundation for the subsequent widening demise, internationally, of the US blockade right down to the inhumane status quo that finally confronted President Obama and Pope Francis in 2014.
The involvement of Pope Francis in the historic commitment with Washington – in which Canada and the New York Times also had participated – was to result in the decision for Washington and Havana to resume enlightened diplomatic relations while both legendary Castro brothers continue to be admirable examples of inspiration for more than the Cuban people.
While Canada stood out among nations in the Western Hemisphere in maintaining diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba under Fidel Castro’s leadership, the Roman Catholic Church had continued its formal relations with the Cuban government.
It had also indirectly influenced the Catholic Church in the rest of the Caribbean region to play an influential role in the inauguration and growth of a then vibrant regional ecumenical movement under the umbrella of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC), headquartered in Port of Spain and through its then monthly newspaper, Caribbean Contact.
Now Pope Francis, who in 2014 appointed two Caribbean citizens – a Haitian and a Dominican – among new cardinals, is planning to make an official visit to Cuba in September, the third pope to do so, starting with Pope Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.
In its report on the almost hour-long meeting between the Pope and President Castro, the BBC quoted the Cuban leader as saying: “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools . . . .”
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.