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Cuban dissidents criticize Havana bishops’ letter on Cardinal Jaime Ortega

Posted on Sunday, 06.03.12

Cuban dissidents criticize Havana bishops' letter on Cardinal Jaime Ortega

Cuban dissidents took exception to a letter by Havana's Bishops Council

that denounced a campaign to discredit the archbishop of Havana.

By Juan Carlos

[email protected]

Members of the opposition inside Cuba openly criticized the content of a

letter sent recently by representatives of the Cuban Catholic Church's

hierarchy in support of Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana.

The letter was signed by bishops and vicars of Havana's Bishops Council.

In three paragraphs, the text denounced what they call a campaign to

discredit Ortega and his efforts to improve the national situation.

Martha , spokesperson of the banned Cuban Network of

Community Communicators, denied dissidents were being malicious. She

said criticism of Ortega's role was based on concrete facts.

"We simply believe that the dialogue headed by Ortega was not done with

dignity nor did it follow Christ's doctrine," Roque told El Nuevo Herald

in a phone interview. "Had it been so, we would all be involved in that

dialogue process. The Catholic hierarchy bowed their head before the

regime and turned their back on the opposition."

Under Ortega's leadership, and with the support of the Spanish

government, the Catholic Church initiated a round of historic and

far-reaching meetings with Cuban Raúl Castro in May 2010. The

dissidents were not invited to that dialogue despite repeated requests.

The result was the gradual and conditioned release of more than 130

prisoners, including 52 activists and independent journalists of the

Group of 75, sentenced in 2003 during a repressive wave known as the

"Black Spring." Most of them had to go directly from to the

and fly to .

Exiles encouraged more than a hundred dissidents, such as Roque and

Jorge Luis García "Antúnez," Guillermo Fariñas and Vladimiro Roca, to

send an open letter in August 2010 to Pope Benedict XVI harshly

protesting the role the church's hierarchy has played in the release of


A year later, the pope announced the Vatican's decision to keep Cardinal

Ortega, who had submitted his resignation on Oct. 18 upon turning 75, in

his post.


The debate over Ortega's handling of the prisoners' releases and the

rights of civil society recently intensified. In an April 24 forum at

Harvard 's David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies

in Cambridge, Mass., Ortega called 13 opponents of the banned Republican

Party for Cuba "criminals."

The 13 occupied a church in Havana before they were pushed, beaten and

kicked out of the church, according to Vladimir Calderón, director of

the banned Republican Party. They were thrown out shortly before the

pope's visit to Cuba at the end of March.

Calderón told El Nuevo Herald on Saturday that the content of the

bishops' letter supporting Cardinal Ortega mischaracterizes the position

of the internal dissidence.

The bishops who signed the letter are the six members of the Bishops

Council. Among them are auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Alfredo Petit and Juan

de Dios Hernández. Vicars Msgr. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Ramón Suárez

Polcari and Rodolfo Loiz also signed.

"No one has tried to discredit the cardinal at any time," Calderón said

from his home in Havana. "The work he has done in the church has been

criticized because we have not seen a recognition of the importance of

the opposition."

The bishops' statement supporting Ortega highlighted that the campaign

to discredit him not only criticizes the cardinal's complex pastoral

performance, but it also, the statement said, attempts to "abort" any

effort toward an understanding and dialogue pursuing a calm, beneficial

solution to Cuba's conflict.

In Santa Clara, Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament's 2010

Sakharov Award, said that it has been Ortega who discredited himself by

the nature and direction of his actions.

"His attitude against peaceful opposition is shameful," Fariñas said.

"Ortega should act as a friend of God and not of Castro's regime."

Ortega has met several times with Castro. He has interceded before him

on behalf of the Ladies in White, as well as of more than 130 political

prisoners released in 2010 and 2011.

Berta Soler, leader of the ladies' group, rejected the idea that the

opposition wants to damage Ortega's image and seeks to prevent any

effort toward a dialogue dealing with the current Cuban situation.

"I am sure that there is no such campaign to discredit, much less

against the church," Soler said in Havana. "The Ladies in White do not

wish to discredit the cardinal and are not going to do it. All we ask

now is to listen to us and to give continuity to the Catholic doctrine."

The letter from the bishops was released Friday afternoon by Orlando

Márquez, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Havana.

After some critics accused Ortega of aligning himself with the Cuban

government, two Catholic magazines defended him in May. The president of

the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcón, also joined in and referred to

the criticism against Ortega as "vulgar attacks" and "insidious campaigns."


Andrés Carrión said that Ortega has "radicalized" a situation

that should be fluid. Carrión was the man who screamed "!" and

"Down with communism!" as well as other anti-Castro slogans on March 26,

shortly before the pope's Mass at Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de

Cuba. "We have no interest in launching a campaign of lies or

discredit," Carrión told El Nuevo Herald. "In any event, I believe that

Ortega should be closer to the oppressed and more distant from the

powerful and the dictatorship."

Dagoberto Valdez, a renowned activist and director of the digital

magazine Convivencia, opted to put aside the controversy. He said that

there are other issues that deserve attention. "Now the most important

issues are the problems in Cuba and its government's inefficiency to

solve them."

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