House Speaker John Boehner’s guest at the State of the Union speech this year, Cuban resistance leader Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez,” made waves in Miami this week by calling Cuba’s highest ranking Catholic leader a “liar” as well as “irresponsible” for saying recently that there are no political prisoners in Cuba.
Antúnez exhorted Cardinal Jaime Ortega not be a coward or opportunist, reminding him that the regime has killed priests, religious, and lay people. After releasing a list of political prisoners, they promised more press conferences in the days and weeks ahead.
This is the first time in a while, possibly ever, that influential leaders in Cuba have singled out the widely unpopular Cardinal for his, seemingly, lack of initiative to come to the defense of the victims of Cuban tyranny. As an American and Catholic, it is difficult at times to listen to folks attacking church leaders. However, Cardinal Ortega has been a failure with respect to standing firm against Communism as well as defending against Christian persecution.
The regime, to this day, persecutes the Church, and other Christians. And there comes a time when someone in authority needs to stand up and say, enough. There have been two popes in Cuba, multiple times. Soon, a third.
These, now, perfunctory papal visits to Cuba hurt the people of Cuba. In the eyes of the Cuban people, Cardinal Ortega has allowed his office, and by extension the Church, to be used by the Communist Party for political ends.
Does it really take three popes to usher in change? In Poland, it took one.
What does this all mean for United States Cuba policy? At this juncture, not much. The Obama administration will ignore it, for now. As will members of Congress from both political parties. However, unlike prior papal visits to Cuba, Pope Francis’s visit, unless something is done to address this issue, will likely result in embarrassing moments for the Church as well as U.S. policy.
Supposedly, U.S. and Cuban Church officials were “instrumental” in the recent rapprochement between the regime and the Obama Administration. I think they were used by the Obama administration for public relations purposes. And they will continue to be used as instruments until the President secures his legacy with respect to Cuba even if that means trampling and ignoring human rights and other abuses throughout the island. This was not the role of the Church during the Cold War. Far from it.
I’m glad Antúnez said what he did and while it may sting in polite circles in Miami and DC, imagine what Antúnez feels like after spending 17 years in jail for opposing the Communists? Antúnez, his wife, the Ladies in White, and countless others are under daily attack in Cuba. As this letter from Christian Solidarity Worldwide in today’s Washington Post points out,
… while it is true that the Catholic Church has received some benefits not extended to other groups and linked to the rapprochement between Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the government, these benefits have not necessarily trickled down to the rank and file. Each week scores of women across the country, and some men, are violently arrested and detained to prevent them from attending Mass, and local priests and bishops are often forced to directly confront state security agents in an effort to preserve their churches as institutions that are open to all …
It is time the Church publicly stood with the defenders of liberty and show solidarity with the future leaders of Cuba, and not with standing with human rights abusers that have committed crimes against Americans, the Cuban people and, yes, crimes against humanity.
Follow this link for a video and news story from the press conference.
The TV Marti segment is embedded below: