‘I Am a Catholic Without a Pope,’ so said many family, friends, and strangers. Indeed, that oft-repeated phrase that for a practicing Catholic is not easy to say or listen to, became news fodder for the Associated Press and other outlets during the Advent and Christmas holiday.
While in South Florida visiting family and friends last week, I heard that phrase, and some colorful variations, a plenty. But when it comes from a person who spent more than a decade rotting in a Cuban political prison, it makes you wonder if there is a little grain of truth behind it.
I grew up in Miami and have interacted with many political prisoners and their families. Former political prisoners are a special group. They’ve endured one of the worse things that can be done to a fellow human being, imprisonment for nothing more than you thoughts and beliefs.
Despite the pain, most are very optimistic people. And many remain warriors committed to the cause of freedom. If anyone was hurting in Miami on December 17, it was these people. They were nothing more than a footnote, if that, in the President’s overall strategy.
One fellow in his late twenties who had arrived from Cuba a few years ago said to me at Versailles, a favorite coffee spot of political junkies like me, ‘it is our political Bay of Pigs.’ I had never thought of it that way, but he was right and have circulated the idea that the December 17 announcement was a colossal blunder that flips U.S. policy priorities: it helps the Cuban government, hurts the Cuban people.
A former political prisoner told me over lunch:
‘from Obama I can understand, he is a politician. And not a very good one when it comes to Cuba. He is either sympathetic to socialism or, respectfully, a fool. But the Pope? I expected a lot more from this Pope. Pope John Paul II would have never coddled the regime this much.‘
By the way, this fellow is a child of the Communist Revolution, the allegedly new generation that supports new policies toward Cuba. Slightly older than me, he had spent most of his young adulthood in a Cuba jail for making derogatory comments about the Castro brothers.
To this day, he refuses to yield an inch and is a staunch supporter of sanctions and he is not afraid to travel back to the island to say so. ‘It is the only thing that the Communist Party understands, a firm hand. They are the Talibans of the Caribbean. They will never give your President a thing. And the pope, the pope should know better,’ he said. ‘He should study how his predecessor Pope John Paul II dealt with the Communists. He is not John Paul,’ he added.
Indeed. And, I added, President Obama is no Ronald Reagan either. President Reagan placed U.S. interests, including the cause of freedom, first in his foreign policy agenda. I’m not very sure what this president aims to do in Cuba, but one thing is certain, the Communist Party has out foxed him, as well as the Pope.
In the process, these two men may also be sowing the seeds of tension, not peace. The should study Cuban history, closely. It is the Cuban people who will decide Cuba’s future, and those are the people we should be supporting, not the old dogs who are on the way out but will use whatever means necessary to stay power. Including force.
Pope Francis, and other clerics who support him, should stick with matters of the soul. For when it comes to geopolitics, realpolitik, the greater good, and Cuba, this time, they know not what they do.