Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Cuba: Finally I Can Speak
“Jornal de Brasilia”, June, 16th 1989
There was general bewilderment in Brazil over the letter sent by His Eminence Cardinal Arns, archbishop of São Paulo, to "Comandante" Fidel on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the victory of the communist revolution in Cuba.
In fact, I cannot understand how the implementation of a political and socioeconomic regime that continues to be overtly communist—until now it has not adopted any of Gorbachev's shrewd façades—and that is, therefore, in direct contradiction with traditional Catholic doctrine, can be greeted by a prince of the Church with such congratulations and praises as the prelate's letter to the "comandante."
Equally incomprehensible is that His Eminence has presented the situation in Cuba in such contrast to what world opinion knows to be true regarding essential points like religious freedom, the misery of the people, and the police-like character of the out-moded Cuban dictatorship.
Nevertheless, while an outcry was being raised against this letter, I preferred to remain quiet, because the voice of the facts is of evident importance in matters like this. Yet only persons who have visited this island-prison in an unbiased way or who have close and continuous contact with what goes on there are in a position to raise a voice in the media.
Even more baffling for me is that the echoes of these voices had not, until now, reached my ears. The international news agencies—as far as I know—remained mute about them.
This omission of those who should be most interested in the matter, that is, Cubans themselves, reduced me to silence. What can one do to help brothers in the faith when they do not defend themselves? About them, I referred in spirit to the saying of Saint Augustine that I recently used in an article regarding the indolent Brazilians: "Qui creavit te sine te, non salvabit te sine te," that is, "God Who created you without your consent will not save you without it."
Finally my painful bewilderment ended. From the ever well-informed and dynamic TFP Washington Bureau, directed by my dear friend Mario Navarro da Costa, I received documented reports of Cuban origin that could serve to enlighten the public about the sad situation of this blessed island that had the great Saint Anthony Mary Claret as its pastor in the nineteenth century, and whose delightful beauty our century celebrated for decades with the title "Pearl of the Antilles."
Miami, Florida, 160 miles from Cuba, is the American metropolis nearest the island. For this very reason, it became the center of attraction for all those unfortunate Cubans who managed to escape Castro's vigilance. These Cubans have been so numerous that they have transformed Miami into a bilingual city, where English and Spanish are spoken equally—even to the point where bus signs are in both languages. The mass media is likewise bilingual. Among the Spanish media, the Diario Las Americas stands out for its journalistic importance. And it was in the pages of the May 11 issue of this daily that we came across a document of the greatest importance.
It was an open letter addressed to Cardinal Arns by three Cuban bishops who, being in exile, are able to speak with a freedom that authentically Catholic bishops residing in communist countries do not enjoy.
In this letter, they develop, in a respectful but evangelically frank way, a complete argumentation that clearly shows the public how far from reality is the Brazilian cardinal's description of religious and civil liberty and the economic situation of the people of the island.
This is a document that no one can ignore.
For lack of space, I refrain from publishing another highly enlightening document signed by more than 100 distinguished Cubans in exile. Distributed as a one-page leaflet to the Miami population it contains a respectful but frank expression of disagreement with the letter sent by Cardinal Arns to the "comandante."
The text of the open letter of the three Cuban bishops follows (subtitles and italics are my own):
1. Reasons for This Open Letter. "We publicly address Your Eminence for two main reasons: first, because the motive that leads us to write this letter is of a public order, having circulated in the national and international press; and second, because having first written Your Eminence privately, we did not receive a response after having waited a reasonable amount of time. Our prior letters to Your Eminence were dated January 16 (Bishop Boza Masvidal) and February 23 (Bishop Roman and Bishop San Pedro) of this year.
2. "Mr. Castro, Lifetime Dictator of Cuba" for 30 Years. "The present issue is your [ 1988] Christmas message to Mr. Castro, lifetime dictator of Cuba, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his seizing power. We are not going to repeat what we said in our private correspondence, although we will summarize its main points.
3. "Very Relative" and "Excessively Costly" Successes. "We told Your Eminence that it would take much time to expose the whole situation of the country in matters of discrimination, lack of religious freedom, and so on, and we showed the disputable character of the achievements and successes because, on one hand, of their excessively high ethical and spiritual cost and, on the other, because they are very relative (letter of Bishop Boza Masvidal).
4. Cruel, Repressive and Police-like Military Dictatorship. "We also remind Your Eminence that for 30 years Cuba has suffered under a cruel and repressive military dictatorship in a police state that continuously and institutionally violates or suppresses fundamental human rights. Among other proofs of this situation, we mention the military ventures of the Castro regime that have cost the Cuban people millions of dollars and the lives of millions of its young people (letter of Bishop Roman and Bishop San Pedro).
5. Cardinal Arns' Assertion about the Cuban Foreign Debt Disputed. "It would take too much time to comment, item by item, on all the assertions of Your Eminence in the aforementioned message, but we consider it necessary to point out some of the most impressive ones. Your Eminence affirms that `today, Cuba can feel proud to be an example of social justice on our continent, so impoverished by the foreign debt.' We do not want to attribute to Your Eminence anything you did not say, but reading this sentence, one might think that Cuba is not impoverished by foreign debt like the rest of the continent. We are certain Your Eminence knows that Cuba has an enormous foreign debt, not only with Western countries, but also with communist countries. According to the latest available statistics, this debt is around $5.5 billion.
6. Opulent Benefits for a Small Privileged Group—the People in Misery. "As for the social justice of Cuba that Your Eminence cites as an example for the continent, we wish to call to mind that while a very small number of high government authorities enjoy all the comforts of life, the people find themselves reduced to the level of survival. Your Eminence, some of us were recently in Cuba, not to discuss how to cook shrimp and lobster with the `comandante' (see Fidel and Religion: Castro Talks on Revolution and Religion with Frei Betto, pp. 45-46, 49-50), but to live with the people and share their anguish and sorrow.
7. The Population Reduced to a Total Subjection Equivalent to That of Minors. "We are certain that Your Eminence does not desire a situation for your beloved Brazil where a very small number would irreversibly hold all political and economic power, abusing it for their own benefit and in order to perpetuate themselves in power, while the population in general is kept in a situation of total subjection, equivalent to that of minors. Your Eminence, please ask your friends who visit Cuba and associate with personalities of the dictatorship if they have seen any of them patiently waiting with a ration card in hand in to order to buy a pound of meat every nine days or two shirts per year like everyone else.
8. A Lesson from Paul VI. "Your Eminence then says that `the Christian faith discovers in the achievements of the revolution signs of the kingdom of God, which manifests itself in our hearts and in the structures that permit us to make of political familiarity a work of love.' Upon reading these words, we do not know why those other words of Paul VI did not come to mind, where he affirms that `the Church ... refuses to replace the proclamation of the kingdom by the proclamation of forms of human liberation; she even states that her contribution to liberation is incomplete if she neglects to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ. The Church links human liberation and salvation in Jesus Christ, but she never identifies them, because she knows ... that in order that God's kingdom should come it is not enough to establish liberation and to create well-being and development" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, nos. 34 and 35).
9. A Christian "Work of Love" from Which One Million Cubans Fled in Terror. "On the other hand, to affirm that the reigning structures in Cuba `permit us to make of political familiarity a work of love' is to be completely ignorant of the Cuban situation. If it were as Your Eminence says, why would it be considered criminal to try to escape this 'political familiarity' that is qualified here as a `work of love'? Why has a country like Cuba, which before had almost no emigrants, seen one million citizens abandon the country in the last 30 years of the Castro dictatorship? Why did 125,000 persons flee to the shores of Florida in an uncontrollable exodus in the short period of five months in 1980? What would we think, Your Eminence, if in five months one million and 100 thousand Brazilians were to seek refuge in Chile?
10. Information Offered by the Three Cuban Bishops Rejected by Cardinal Arns. "We believe that Your Eminence is the victim of your own goodness and kind heart. Your Eminence does not know of Cuba except through the testimony of other persons whom you trust. This is not the place to express an opinion about the intention of these persons or the strange understanding that they could have in face of the silence of Your Eminence before our fraternal offering, as brothers in the episcopate, of placing at your disposition other aspects of the situation in Cuba which Your Eminence seems to ignore.
11. The Lack of Religious Freedom "Effectively Diminished" Priesth and Religious Vocations and "Attendance at Sunday Mass." "One of these aspects that should concern Your Eminence is the lack of religious freedom in Cuba which especially affects Catholics. This lack of freedom, whose details we could offer Your Eminence whenever you wish, is reflected tragically in religious statistics: Cuba is the only country of the Caribbean and probably in Latin America in general that, in the last 30 years, effectively diminished in the numbers of Catholics, priests, religious and seminarians, as well as attendance at Sunday Mass.
12. Information That Does Not Correspond to the Facts. "The recent debate roused by your Christmas letter is obvious proof of what we are saying. Your Eminence may respond and make as many public statements as you deem appropriate in your country as well as others. What we know is that the bishops of Cuba, on their side, will maintain their customary silence. The press attributed to Your Eminence the affirmation that the message, which was supposed to be confidential and private, became public only after the archbishop of Havana gave his consent. As far as we know, the testimony of entirely trustworthy persons is that this affirmation does not correspond to the facts. Your Eminence, we do not doubt your truthfulness, but again we think that you were the victim of your own trust and credulity by confiding in third parties.
13. Taking the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi as a Basis. "Regarding this religious freedom, we dare to cite once again the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: `The necessity of ensuring fundamental human rights cannot be separated from this just liberation which is bound up with evangelization and which endeavors to secure structures safeguarding human freedoms. Among these fundamental human rights, religious liberty occupies a place of primary importance' (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 39).
14. May God Spare Brazil the Tragic Cuban Experience. "We wish to conclude, repeating the desire that we expressed in our private correspondence to Your Eminence: `May God grant that your country never have to go through the tragic experience that we are undergoing.'
"Your Eminence, peace and goodwill.
"The Most Rev. Eduardo Boza Masvidal, bishop of Los Teques; the Most Rev. Agustin Roman, auxiliary bishop of Miami; the Most Rev. Enrique San Pedro, S.J., auxiliary bishop of Galveston-Houston."