Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 26 Book Reading, Mia Farrow on Sudan, Cuba & the Catholic Church

About a dozen people attended my book reading last night at Riverby Books, a local bookstore. Wine snacks, and strawberries were served. I reconnected with a couple of old friends in the neighborhood. Three people bought my book and one bought another book for sale at the store. Two of my books had been sold there prior to the event, for a total of five, so far. A couple of attendees already had the book. It was fun, but this is a slow way of selling books and, of course, the bookstore takes its cut.

On Sat., May 22, my daughter Melanie called me to say that her father-in-law, diagnosed with liver cancer just last January, had died at noon. Melanie and her husband took his 9-year-old daughter, for whom he had custody, to live with them.

My brother Bob from Florida, his girl friend, and her cousin will be visiting for Memorial Day weekend, which should be a pleasant respite from my usual frenetic routine. I will have to take at least some “down time” while they are here.

Not too sound too self-congratulatory, but the gulf oil spill reinforces my decision not to own a car and to rely on public transportation, though sometimes that’s time-consuming and inconvenient.

African hopes are fading as the U.S. lets President Omar al-Bashir escape justice. So says Mia Farrow in an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal (May 25, 2010). She reports that the people of Darfur’s high hopes when Obama was elected have faded.

A correspondent concerned with Cuban labor rights has suggested that Pope Benedict make a visit there, something the Cuban government would probably welcome, despite reservations, because of the revenue it would bring in. When John Paul II went to Cuba in 1998, it caused quite a stir. Even Fidel attended Mass. It would be good if Pope Benedict could go now, though he’s not as popular as John Paul. Maybe it would help his popularity, both in Cuba and abroad, if he did, though he might not want to be a copycat.

Here’s an observation from my Cuban correspondent regarding negotiations on the freeing of ill political prisoners there (Fariñas, the man he refers to, has been on an extended hunger strike to promote their release). The Catholic Church is coordinating the negotiating positions of Fariñas and the Damas de Blanco and neither of them is willing to do anything that might create difficulties for the Church's negotiating position. As for possible negotiating links between the Church and the US government, the basic objective of the Cuban government is using the imprisoned dissidents to swap for the five Cuban spies and it is highly improbable that it would pay that much attention to the Cuban Catholic hierarchy if it did not believe that it could somehow contribute to that goal.

This logically requires the Catholic Church (Cuban , US or Vatican or all of the above) to somehow be an intermediary or a mediator in the indirect negotiations between the Cuban and US governments that are probably going on. All this is, of course, speculation, but it is not totally illogical speculation. In short we will soon see what are the results of the negotiations that are obviously going on!

He adds this: In Cuba, the Catholic Church’s role was minimized by the Castro government, which took away its schools, many of its properties, and deported or exiled a great proportion of its priests and made believing in God a disadvantage in life. Cardinal Ortega himself was subject to persecution. In his youth he was accused of being a homosexual and sent to UMAP camps.

Regarding a possible prisoner swap between Cuba and the U.S., another correspondent says,
A precedent of releasing the Cuban spies in the US could be an election problem as I see the voters. Perhaps, improving their conditions in prison would be much better and could be worked out. Setting a precedent of releasing Cuban spies poses other problems for the US over the long term. What if now we catch Pakistani spies or others? Could be a bad double standard to set.

I agree, letting the "Cuban Five" go before the elections, if at all, would be problematic. I just had an inquiry, asking why the wives of the five have not been given visas to let them visit their husbands in prison? It does seem that could be granted, although, of course, they would also speak out about their husbands' innocence in a way that the wives of political prisoners in Cuba cannot.
Cuban cardinal wants political prisoners freed

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press,Thursday, May 20, 2010

HAVANA -- Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal called for the liberation of some of the island's 200 political prisoners on Thursday after a rare sit-down with President Raul Castro, and said he thought his encounter with the Cuban leader was a "magnificent start" to serious dialogue.
"The church is interested in an alleviation of the situation (of the political prisoners) - the liberation of some of them, for example," Cardinal Jaime Ortega said, a day after he and another church leader, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, held a four-hour discussion with Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution, the seat of Cuba's government. The church has called previously for freedom for the island's prisoners of conscience, but doing so right after such a high profile meeting was unusual.

Ortega said in a news conference that he had also brought up the government's decision to bar the dissident Ladies in White from holding weekly marches. The group - comprised of the wives and mothers of jailed political prisoners - were stopped from protesting for three straight weekends in April and pro-government counter-protesters were brought in to shout abuse at them. The standoff ended after Ortega's mediation, when the government agreed to allow the quiet protests to resume in return for assurances the women would not expand their activities.
The cardinal made clear that no deal on any prisoner releases or easing of measures against the opposition had been struck. "We are not talking about any commitments. We are talking about conversations with the government, conversations that had a magnificent start yesterday (Wednesday) and that ought to continue in the near future," Ortega said. The meeting was a sign of the church's growing influence on the island.

Garcia, who is archbishop of Santiago and leader of the Conference of Bishops of Cuba, said it was the first time the head of the bishops' group has met with the country's leader in five years, when Fidel Castro was still in charge. Fidel stepped down formally in 2008, turning power over to his brother. "It was a very positive meeting," he told The Associated Press.

Garcia said that he thought "that there was good will" on the part of the government on the issue of dissidents. A photo of a beaming Raul Castro with the two church leaders was printed on the front page of Thursday's Communist-party daily Granma, but the caption said little about what was discussed and made no mention of dissidents or political prisoners.

The government denies it holds political prisoners, and says dissidents are paid mercenaries of Washington, which has been at odds with Cuba since shortly after Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencia Batista in 1959.

Ortega has waded into politics several times in recent months, telling a church magazine in April that Cuba was in its worst crisis in years and that its citizens were clamoring for political and social change sooner rather than later.

The meeting between Castro and the church leaders comes a month before Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti is scheduled to visit Cuba for talks on the island's economic challenges and the effects of emigration and the families torn apart by it. Mamberti is the first top Vatican official to come since Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state to Pope Benedict XVI, visited Cuba in February 2008.

Relations between the church and Cuba's government have often been strained. Tensions eased in the early 1990s when the government removed references to atheism in the constitution and allowed believers of all faiths to join the Communist Party. They warmed more when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998.
Editorial, Miami Herald, May 24, 2010
Leadership, at last, for Cuba's people
OUR OPINION: Catholic Church can be a catalyst for change

Finally, after a long silence, Cuba's Catholic Church is taking a stand, calling on the Castro regime to free 26 political prisoners who are in failing health.
About time.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Santiago Archbishop Dionisio García, head of the island's Bishops' Conference, met with Raúl Castro last week -- the first in an expected series of talks to deal with the dictatorship's abysmal treatment of Cubans, in and out of prison. The meeting, the first in five years between the regime's officials and church leaders, comes after the cardinal last month acknowledged in a Catholic magazine that Cuba is in economic crisis and noted that people are desperate for political and social change.

Ladies in White abused
It also comes after Spain, the European Union and many Latin American leaders have challenged the Castro government's mistreatment of the Ladies in White, women who walk peacefully in protest of their loved ones' imprisonment. The Obama administration and world leaders also condemned Cuba's horrid prison conditions following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after more than 80 days in a hunger strike seeking better treatment of prisoners of conscience.

And it's happening as dissident journalist Guillermo Fariñas has made headlines worldwide in a hunger strike calling for the release of the 26 ailing prisoners -- a demand that Gen. Castro labeled ``blackmail'' in April.

For now the Ladies have resumed their marches, but the Castro regime is pressuring them to split from a group of female supporters who have been walking with them. In typical Orwellian doublespeak the regime claims those supporters ``distort'' the issue.

Cardinal should speak up
In truth, Cubans have stepped up their quest for rights after 51 years of fear inspired by firing squads and "defense of the revolution'' block captains who report to the government on neighbors' every move.

Cardinal Ortega has remained mum for too long. He has tried to collaborate with the regime in hopes of getting an opening, as Pope John Paul II called for during his 1998 visit to the communist island. But even as the world has opened to Cuba with more trade and tourism, Cuba has cracked down on its people, unable to accept dissent without imposing violent consequences.
This would not be the first time Cuba has freed prisoners, of course. The Castro brothers have a long history of making small moves in an attempt to score big points abroad.
That's why the cardinal and bishops' efforts are so important. They have to seize this opportunity when key leaders and trading partners with Cuba are watching and demanding action.

In a country run by old revolutionaries, stuck in a time warp of failed policies, Cuba's youth are restless. The Church, as it did in Poland and other nations during the Cold War, can play a pivotal role in being a voice for those the regime wants to silence.

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