Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba last September, symbolically preceding his arrival in the United States, provoked many Americans to rethink our country’s decades-old embargo of the communist island nation. The Pope’s act of visiting Cuba en route to America was clearly a symbolic gesture that expressed a greater moral opposition to the embargo than words ever could.
This was not the Pope’s first action against the American embargo. For more than one year the Vatican, the United States and Cuba participated in secret negotiations in Canada that culminated in the restoration of diplomatic ties, the reopening of embassies, and the loosening of travel restrictions, with intentions to fully eliminate the trade embargo before the end of President Obama’s final term. In a speech on December 17, 2014, Cuban dictator Raul Castro effusively thanked Pope Francis for his role: “I wish to thank and acknowledge the support of the Vatican, most particularly the support of Pope Francisco in the efforts for improving relations between Cuba and the United States.”1
The United States is the only country in the world that imposes a trade embargo on Cuba, a fact long decried by the United Nations, leftist governments, and socialist activists across the world. Indeed, opposition to the American embargo on trade with Cuba has been a leftist rallying cry for decades (ironically the very same socialists who condemn “Yankee” meddling in Latin America).
Nearly every socialist world leader, from François Hollande of France to Dilma Roussef of Brazil to the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, has publicly condemned it. For twenty-four years in a row the United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution condemning the American embargo. These resolutions are nearly unanimous; 2015’s passed by a vote of 191-2, with only the U.S. and Israel voting against.
The global left has not stopped at mere moral support. Contrary to popular belief, the embargo is not a “blockade.” Any country is free to trade with Cuba as they please. Venezuela has essentially donated billions of dollars in free oil to Cuba in exchange for the services of Cuban “doctors.”
China has loaned and invested tens of billions of dollars in Cuba for, among other things, building factories and buying up oil exploration rights. Brazil, governed by the socialist Workers Party, has sunk nearly $1 billion into the Port of Mariel, an “Exclusive Economic Zone” in western Cuba. The governments of Canada, Spain and many other European countries have likewise invested billions of dollars into Cuba. Nearly all these countries have seen little to no return on their investments.2
In spite of this enormous financial and political support (or rather because of it) Cuba remains a poor, bloody dictatorship that drives thousands of its people to risk their lives at sea for a chance to escape to freedom.
Those Cubans not in jail and fortunate enough to have a job earn a mere $20 per month, on average.3 To survive, Cubans joke that on the island one has three options, called the three “R’s”: remar, robar, resignarse (row, steal, or resign oneself).
On the very same day as the above mentioned speech of Raul Castro, President Obama declared that “these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”4 In reality, these 50 years of economic and political engagement by the rest of the world have not worked. Economic engagement has utterly failed to overthrow the communist regime and bring freedom to the long-suffering Cuban people. The billions of dollars from tourism and economic investment has strengthened, not weakened, the Castro brothers’ grip on power.
Many observers, particularly Catholics, have been led to believe that the only proper way to deal with the Cuban regime is to treat it the way Our Lord Jesus Christ supposedly would: with gentleness and compassion. We must, so they say, seek out Cuba just as the Good Shepherd would seek out the lost sheep. Cuba is the lost sheep of our time and must be treated with the same Divine compassion and mercy. Only then can Cuba reenter the fold of the community of nations.
These Catholics admit to the infinite mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ yet overlook His equally infinite justice. This Divine justice was revealed with Our Lord’s holy indignation at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He repeatedly and publicly denounced them, calling them “whited sepulchres,” “brood of vipers,” and “sons of the devil,” and cautioned the people not to imitate their example.
Likewise, with Divine justice Our Lord excoriated and whipped the money changers out of the Temple. God Our Lord is both infinite Mercy and infinite Justice. To deny one or the other is to present a disfigured image of God.
As Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira wrote:
There are many Catholics who consider as unworthy of imitation the episodes of the Gospel showing the Messiah’s holy wrath against the ignominy and treachery of the Pharisees. At least that is what emerges from the way they consider the apostolate. They always talk about sweetness and always seek to imitate this virtue of Our Lord. May God bless them for that; but why don’t they seek to imitate the other virtues of Our Lord?
Frequently, when one proposes an energetic action in matters of the apostolate the invariable answer is that we must proceed with the utmost gentleness “in order not to further alienate those who have fallen astray.” Could one sustain that strong action invariably causes the misguided to “drive even further away”? Could it be argued that when Our Lord called to task the Pharisees with burning invectives He did so with the intention of “driving those misguided ones even further away”? Or should one perhaps suppose that Our Lord did not know or care about the “catastrophic” effect that His words would cause on the Pharisees? Who would dare admit such blasphemy against Our Lord, the Incarnate Wisdom?5
These Catholics mistakenly believe that Cuba is some new breed of lost sheep that must be sought out and brought back into the fold of the world community of nations through sweetness and compassion. On the contrary, Cuba is more akin to a lost wolf, one that continues to devour innocent victims by the thousands.
Take, for example, its political prisoners. According to dissident groups more than 250 were arrested during Pope Francis’ visit alone.6
Although 3,500 prisoners were released to much fanfare shortly before the Pope’s arrival, none were political prisoners, a fact that the Cuban government made very clear. Moreover, Raul Castro declared that maintaining the Cuban Communist Party in power is a non-negotiable prerequisite for any negotiations and that any attempts to intercede on behalf of political prisoners would be considered a hostile intrusion in Cuba’s internal affairs.
Since Raul Castro took power from his brother Fidel in 2006, there have been no less than 259 documented cases of “enemies of the Revolution” executed or “disappeared,” and no less than 8,200 since 1959, according to the dissident group CubaArchive.org.7
These are merely the fully documented cases, and there are certainly many thousands more unaccounted for. An estimated 77,000 have drowned at sea trying to escape to freedom.8
Cuba is a long-time sponsor of the Colombian Marxist terrorist group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a group that has killed more than 200,000 people in its five-decade war to overthrow the Colombian government. At the same time that Raul Castro received Pope Francis, his government was hosting “peace” talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC. Thanks to Cuban support, the FARC is demanding, and receiving, complete political and criminal amnesty without disarmament in exchange for a permanent “ceasefire.”
In addition, an estimated 70 American criminals are being harbored by Cuba, including convicted cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. Cuba has also given support to the Spanish terrorist group ETA for years and currently refuses to extradite to Spain two members of that group who have lived there since the 1980s, José Ángel Urtiaga and José Ignacio Etxarte.9
Worse than the tortures, murders, and terrorism perpetrated by the Cuban regime is the abominable communist doctrine it espouses and imposes on the Cuban people. This doctrine – essentially atheistic, egalitarian, materialistic, and Hegelian – is antithetical to Catholic doctrine and any authentically Christian society. It is the justification and inspiration for all the abuses and crimes committed by communists, and the motivation for Raul Castro’s militant resistance to any attempts at its overthrow.
In his masterful 1963 essay “The Church and the Communist State: The Impossible Coexistence” Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira demonstrated that a Catholic cannot in good conscience peacefully coexist with a communist government. In exchange for a limited freedom of worship, communists inevitably require Catholics to renounce certain points of Catholic doctrine, or at least refrain from preaching them. Such points always include the Catholic teachings on the right of private property and the family. A Catholic cannot renounce Church doctrine on these non-negotiable areas of Faith and Morals. To do so would be to disfigure the Faith and slowly lead souls to accept communist doctrine in its entirety.
The American rapprochement with the Castro dictatorship will do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Cuban people. America is essentially admitting defeat in its 50-year opposition to Cuban communism, an act which is greatly enhancing the Castros’ prestige, reinforcing their grip on power, and legitimizing their rule in the eyes of the Cuban people and the world. Cuban Catholics, by far the largest and most important obstacle to communist rule, are receiving the message that their suffering has all been in vain.
At face value, the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the Castro dictatorship seems to many to be a victory for socialism. A more profound analysis of the facts, however, reveals just the opposite. In spite of near universal support of governments, unlimited access to global finance, virtually free oil, abundant natural resources, the goodwill of nearly every global establishment institution, and the moral support of the Pope himself, Cuban socialism has failed. The country is in such dire economic straits that, like the Eastern Bloc in 1989, popular outrage is seriously threatening the Cuban Communist Party’s grip on power.
If the regime were truly strong — and enjoyed the support of its people — it wouldn’t need the economic life raft being thrown to them by the hated “Yankees.” For the Left, Cuba should be a model of socialism to be proud of. Instead, it is THE basket case of Marxism, a rotting corpse that needs all the support it can get to avoid tottering into the abyss. Obama is essentially putting Cuba on economic life support which, as any doctor could explain, is not a sign of health and vitality.
May Our Lady of Charity, Patroness of Cuba, intercede to fortify the Faith of those heroic Cubans who continue to resist. May she crush the communist regime and bring relief and freedom to the long-suffering Cuban people.
- Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “Don’t Treat Wolves Like Lost Sheep,” O Legionario, September 28, 1941.