The Cardinal and the Ladies in White, cartoon by Arístides
By Ernesto Ariel Suárez

Havana’s archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, has made seemingly disparate moves and statements this past weekend. He met with the Ladies in White, stated that through his intercession with the Castro regime, they would be allowed to march without interference, and publicly asked the regime to respect them. However, Monsignor Ortega also called on Guillermo Fariñas to “be flexible” on his position, and to end his hunger strike. The Cardinal did not mention the causes for Fariñas’s hunger strike: the 26 prisoners of conscience that are on such precarious health that some of them are teetering on the verge of death. The Cardinal did not call on the Cuban government to answer Fariñas’ demands, and free these prisoners. The Cardinal did not ask the regime to free any other political prisoners.

As a Cuban Catholic, I am aware of the sometimes extreme difficulties to operate that the Church has faced and continues to face in Cuba. I can understand the difficult position in which the Church’s hierarchy, especially Monsignor Ortega, finds itself while trying to function within the tight control of the Stalinist dictatorship. I can also imagine the pressure from the Vatican hierarchy, some of whose members are not shy about their sympathies for the Castro regime. I welcome His Eminence’s recent statements on the state of crisis of Cuban society, on the urgent need for change, and his more recent ones about the Ladies in White and their plight.

I am also aware that many Cuban Catholics support the opposition, and that many of them, like the Ladies in White, Oswaldo Payá and Dania Virgen García, are part of that movement. Many Catholics risk their lives and whatever very little personal freedom they have daily to peacefully oppose and end a bloody and unjust regime that has sent many of us to prison, exile and death.

I call on His Eminence to listen to those Cuban Catholics, and to remember the words of the Holy Father said to him when he was elevated to the office he now occupies, on the Sixth Ordinary Consistory, November 26th, 1994:

“This red is a sign of the dignity of the office of Cardinal. It means that you must be ready to act with fortitude, to the point of shedding your own blood for the growth of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony within God’s people, for the freedom and expansion of the Holy Roman Catholic Church”

I am not asking him to shed his blood. I cannot in good conscience do so, just as I cannot encourage Fariñas to maintain his hunger strike. However, I am asking the Cardinal to act on the orders given to him by the Holy Father, and to act with fortitude and join the voices of so many thousands of others to demand the liberation of all Cuban prisoners of conscience. I am calling on His Eminence to join so many Cuban Catholics who are working peacefully to end a regime that has brought neither peace nor harmony to God’s people. I hope that he can find in his heart and in his unquestionable faith in Christ, the strength to do it.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners
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