Cuba’s Foreign Ministry Vetoes the Presence of Several Priests at the Event with the Cardinal in the University Great Hall
Havana journalist Adrián Martínez Cádiz was one of those invited by the authorities of the Catholic Church to an event this Wednesday at the University of Havana where Cardinal Beniamino Stella, envoy of Pope Francis, participated. The guest list included laymen, priests and nuns, and had to be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Martínez, known for his critical stance against the regime, never received endorsement for his participation in the event.
“Today after the meeting I understood why we were not allowed to attend. Miguel Díaz-Canel was there,” Martínez reasoned on Facebook. Along with the journalist, several priests and Catholic communicators also waited in vain for government approval.
The event, held in the Aula Magna [Great Hall] of the University, a place that houses the remains of Félix Varela, a Cuban priest and patriot, was attended by various leaders of the Catholic Church, as well as government authorities, diplomats and university professors. With a speech that commemorated the meeting of Pope John Paul II, 25 years ago, with the “world of culture,” Stella ended his agenda on the Island, whose provinces he had toured since January 23.
“I have to say that I would have liked to hear Cardinal Beniamino Stella give his speech, in that place, in front of those people,” said Martínez, alluding to the words of the former apostolic nuncio about the need for freedom on the island, which he later detailed in statements to the international media.
After Martínez’s complaint, several Havana priests denounced that they had also been prohibited from attending the event at the university. Jorge Luis Pérez Soto, one of the clergy who has offered assistance to the prisoners from the 11 July 2021 protests [11J], and who has demanded their release, commented: “Although the Church counted me among the guests, I was excluded from the list by ’other’ people.”
The Dominican friar Lester Rafael Zayas Díaz doubted, even, that the ecclesial authorities themselves had included his name among the list of “recommended.” He claimed not to know “who organized this act or its relevance,” and stated that he was not on Stella’s “original agenda.”
“Every year I refuse to enter that marvelous campus when it is intended to celebrate and honor the university as if it had been born in 1959 and where Father Varela has never been mentioned, at least in that event. I am grateful not to have been included by whoever it was. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Those who know me closely know that I would not have gone,” he wrote.
Cardinal Stella’s visit has not been without controversy among those who approve of his policy of non-confrontation with the Cuban government and those who would have wanted a more explicit denunciation of human rights violations on the island. Stella, however, did not offer problematic statements until the last moment, in front of Díaz-Canel and the government authorities.
From his speech, phrases such as “Freedom cannot be subordinated to any calculation of interests or circumstances or to wait for better times to promote it” and “learning about freedom will favor the material, ethical and spiritual growth of the people,” emerged from his speech, which has been reprinted on social networks.
For its part, the official press has made one last attempt to redirect the interpretation of Stella’s words this Wednesday with the publication, in the Communist Party newspaper, of an apology for the rapprochement of the Cuban government with the Vatican.
To the statements about the possibility of an amnesty for the 11J prisoners, the only phrase that Díaz-Canel ambiguously conceded, according to Granma, was that he would try to find “a solution to the expectations of both parties.” Regarding the Episcopal Conference, whose relations with the Government have experienced a notable estrangement, the president was no less hermetic when affirming that “at this moment the bishops thank the Cuban president and government for many gestures they have made in these years, and in present times.”