March 14, 2008 Eminence Cardinal Tarciso Bertone
00120 Vatican City State, Europe
Your Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone:

Our heartfelt appreciation for the trip you took to our dear land, Cuba, on behalf of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. It is indeed a source of pride and hope to see such a distinguished prelate of the Church visiting our homeland.

The world is well aware that our people have suffered and are suffering a great deal. Almost a half century of oppression and of violations of the most fundamental rights of the human person in Cuba, are not easy to bear. Almost a half century of exile makes our hopes for our nation dwindle, and yet, we continue to believe in the future of our country.
Your eminence, there is so much that could be written. Thousands of men have died facing the firing squad for the sole “crime” of opposing the regime. Many faced the horrors of the execution shouting, “Hail Christ the King!” Thousands of others, men, women and children have drowned in the waters of the Straits of Florida seeking freedom. We know you can imagine the desperation that makes a man risk his life and that of his family in an attempt to cross more than 100 miles of ocean in a flimsy, home-made craft. In the Spring of 2003 more than seventy men of integrity were sentenced to long prison terms for daring to write something – even minutia– criticizing the Castro regime. Some were arrested only for creating a small library opened to the public and not controlled by the Cuban government. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was first sent to prison for publicly condemning the government’s promotion of abortion clinics. Today, the Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco) gather in the Catholic Church of Saint Rita to start their weekly peregrinations in protest of those arrested so unjustly in 2003. Each lady carries a white rose in their hands; the rose that the apostle of Cuban independence, José Martí, called, “The white rose of friendship”. Clearly there is no hatred in their hearts, but love, Christian love and Christian motivation. Is it not shameful that the same day that Cuban Chancellor Pérez-Roque was signing the Human Rights Convention in the United Nations, Mr. Guillermo Fariñas, was beaten in a Havana street by ministry of the interior agents because he was distributing the very text of the Convention that Pérez-Roque had signed earlier that day? The people of Cuba, here in the diaspora and there, in that dear land, hope for deliverance.

Would it not be possible for the Cuban Church to make an attempt at visiting the prisoners of conscience in the Cuban jails? Could the Church, in keeping with the words in Chapter 25 of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, try to carry those prisoners Christ’s spiritual comfort? Of course, the tyranny’s denial would surely follow, but, equally surely, the Church would have been strengthened.

With all our faults, and we had many, Cuba was once a flourishing nation. In 1958, Cuba had the highest per capita income (in U.S. dollars) in Latin America. In that same year, the island produced 5.6 million tons of sugar, a figure that the Communist regime has seldom been able to reach successfully and consistently. The Cuban Communist government admits that currently Cubans abroad send to the island more than one thousand million U.S. dollars annually. That’s quite a few dollars of help! And yet, the regime likes to blame the embargo for just about all Cuban maladies, but efficiency in sugar production, proper soil conservation, competent transportation of the sugar cane to the mills to avoid the plant from drying up, has nothing to do with the embargo. In 1955, Cuba produced 467 million pounds of beef (That was 76.4 pounds of beef annually per inhabitant!). For decades, the revolution, in a gross mismanagement of the cattle industry, has not even been able to put beef in the market on a weekly basis for the people of Cuba. (All the statistics in this paragraph can be found in U.N. and Cuban sources.)
The embargo was the result of the confiscation by the Communist regime of all U.S. properties in Cuba without due compensation. Could we humbly suggest that should the embargo be negotiated, the people in Cuba receive some freedoms as a result? Would not an acceptable consequence be freedom for the prisoners of conscience? Your Eminence, it is so easy to blame others, in this case the U.S. embargo, for the dreadful economic mismanagement of the Cuban economy by the corrupt Cuban bureaucracy. Cuba does have commercial relations with the better part of the world. There is no excuse for the exploitation, abuse, terror, dearth and misery which the Cuban people are subjected to by the privileged “rulers” in the Communist Party. Embargo or no embargo, it’s the same story of failure, of corruption and evil that the imperious Communism inflicted on Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, etc. Cuba is in desperate need of a “Perestroika”, of a “Glasnost”!
Wherever we are, Cubans look up to our Catholic Church as the one institution that can be a decisive factor in courageously contributing to a better tomorrow for our land. All Cubans, in the island and abroad, are filled with hopes, are filled with expectations and dreams of standing together as brothers in Christ in a nation ruled by law and honoring human rights and freedoms.
A dictum from Horace comes to mind, “And once sent out, a word takes up wind beyond recall” (ET semel emissum volat irrevocabile verbum). Evoking the words of our late Holy Father, John Paul II, when he told the Cuban people not to be afraid, may your word, your eminence, speak of the yearns for freedom of the people of Cuba.
God bless you and all the tasks you pursue in service of Holy Mother Church.

Francisco Pérez Lerena SJ
Superior of the Jesuits in Miami