The BBC is making a big deal out of the fact that the Castro dictatorship has given the green light to a church construction project in Santiago de Cuba.
There is no denying that this is a “first” for the dictatorship. Never before has it approved the building of a new church. But is it a big deal? Is this a sign of “change”?
First of all, it is highly unlikely that this project will ever get off the ground. If it does, then the new church will most likely be built with funds from abroad, as was the case with the construction of a new seminary a few years ago, which was funded largely by the Knights of Columbus here in the United States (based in New Haven, just a few blocks from my office).
In addition, this new building project has more pluses than minuses for the Castro dictatorship: as is the case with all enterprises in Castrogonia, the government’s ministries will tightly control every aspect of the project and all of the funds and building materials will have to pass through their greedy hands. And the workers will labor under the usual slave wage arrangement, which always benefits the state more than the workers and their families. In addition — as is proven by the BBC coverage — this tiny little gesture that is likely not to lead anywhere will make it seem as if the dictatorship is finally relaxing its grip on the Cuban people.
Meanwhile, as the plans for this project move forward at the usual snail’s pace, the Catholic Church in Castrogonia will continue to function as a branch of government. Cardinal Jaime Ortega might as well be called Minister of Religion.
Castro regime approves construction of first new church in 55 years.
In what appears to be yet another attempt to claim it is “opening” itself to the world, the communist regime of Cuba is reportedly set to approve the construction of a Catholic church on the island for the first time since the Revolution banned public displays of religiosity, considering them antithetical to Marxism.
The BBC reports that Catholic residents of the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba have received permission to build a new church, using whatever material they can find. Organizers of the program explain that the government granted permission after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the main place of worship in the city, San Pedrito’s Church. In addition to San Pedrito, seven other churches were destroyed, and the hurricane significantly damaged 28 others.
The Catholic residents of Santiago have begun planning the building project, but they must recycle old materials, given the scarcities of the socialist economy. Their main material for constructing a church will be metal beams initially used years ago to build a stage for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. The beams have been sitting in an empty lot since 2012, when the Pope arrived on Cuban soil.
During his visit, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a speech in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, calling for the nation to embrace “authentic freedom.”
BBC reports that Cuba’s “attitude to religion has softened since the fall of the Soviet Union,” though the Cuban government still persecutes the faithful regularly, if not as aggressively, as in the 1960s. Then, hardline Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, particularly, were considered “deviants” from Marxism–along with LGBT individuals and sex workers–and arrested, as the government was hard at work to eradicate any authority on the island aside from its own. The Cuban government has, however, been more traditionally lenient with the island’s pagan religion, Santería.
Nonetheless, Catholics continue to be the objects of persecution in communist Cuba. One particular group of faithful Catholics–the Ladies in White, an anti-communist group comprised of the female relatives of political prisoners–are arrested at Sunday mass on almost a weekly basis. More than one hundred women dressed in white were arrested in July in one of the largest government crackdowns as they walked out of Sunday mass, praying for the victims of the 13 of March Tugboat Massacre, in which the Cuban government killed 37 men, women, and children attempting to escape the island by drowning them in a makeshift marine vessel.