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Cablegate: Bertone Visit Generates Broad Disappointment

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PP RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL
RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRG RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHUB #0245/01 0741808
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 141808Z MAR 08
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3030
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 0149
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COGARD INTELCOORDCEN WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 000245

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2013
TAGS: CU PGOV PHUM PINR PREL
SUBJECT: BERTONE VISIT GENERATES BROAD DISAPPOINTMENT

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2013
TAGS: CU PGOV PHUM PINR PREL
SUBJECT: BERTONE VISIT GENERATES BROAD DISAPPOINTMENT

REF: VATICAN 0031

HAVANA 00000245 001.2 OF 002

Classified By: DCM Buddy Williams for reason 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: The visit to Cuba of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was considered a disappointment by everyone USINT has spoken with, though presumably not by the GOC itself. In a subsequent meeting with the COM, the Nuncio seemed especially disappointed. But even normally cautious Cardinal Jaime Ortega cited several serious problems with the visit. Nevertheless, the visit probably achieved the Church's principal objective of preserving, and even expanding slightly, its space on the island. Cardinal Ortega is now focusing his attention on convincing the Vatican that a papal visit in January 2009 would be a good idea.
END SUMMARY.

2. (C) The February 20-26 visit to Cuba of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone had been planned for months to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the visit to Cuba of Pope John Paul II. The visit included the dedication of a monument to the papal visit that was erected on the site of the papal mass celebrated during the 1998 visit in the central Cuban city of Villa Clara. By coincidence, Bertone's visit began just as the Cuban National Assembly was electing Raul Castro president of the Council of State in place of his brother Fidel, who had withdrawn from consideration for the post the week before for health reasons. Thus, Cardinal Bertone became the first official outside visitor to the new Raul Castro-led Cuba. With that role in mind, the Bertone visit was an especially inauspicious event.

3. (C) Given the care with which the Church in Cuba approaches its relations with the regime, we did not expect Bertone to go beyond very circumspect diplomatic language. Instead, at a MINREX-sponsored press event he attacked U.S. policy towards Cuba, calling the embargo "ethically unacceptable and an oppression of the Cuban people." He also lent his support to the GOC proposal to swap political prisoners for five Cuban spies held in the U.S., implicitly equating the convicted spies with prisoners of conscience. He further criticized the U.S. for the way its policies affected family reunification, but made no mention of restrictions placed on family reunification of its own citizens by the Government of Cuba itself.

4. (C) Bertone's willingness to join with the GOC in bashing U.S. policy prompted one Cuban to comment to his parish priest that the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) would soon be issuing him a membership card. Many Cubans with whom we have spoken expressed similar or stronger levels of disappointment with the visit. Especially among practicing Catholic faithful, Bertone's visit had been anticipated as an opportunity to renew the spirit of hope that had come from Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit, and give a voice to the rising and unfulfilled expectations of the Cuban people to which the Cuban bishops had referred clearly in their Christmas message. Those in and around Havana complained specifically about the heavy police presence at Cardinal Bertone's mass at the Havana cathedral that seemed designed to exclude the rank and file faithful. Those excluded were relegated to viewing the mass on television (the broadcast of which was considered a success of the visit by the local church) where they could see the pews filled with foreign diplomats (though not from USINT, we were not invited), government officials, and members of the nomenklatura who normally take no part in church activities.

5. (C) COM called on the Papal Nuncio the week after the visit to raise the statements made by Cardinal Bertone. The Nuncio defended Bertone's statement on the embargo strongly as consistent with the Vatican's position, and refused to be swayed on the question of swapping Cuban political prisoners for five Cuban spies held in the U.S., saying all are prisoners who suffer and the Church must defend the rights of all. The Nuncio seemed literally to be stricken that the USG would be offended by Bertone's comments. He did allow that he thought it was unfortunate that the Cardinal had decided to speak in Spanish, a language in which he is not comfortable, at the news conference. That decision may have induced Bertone to use the Spanish phrasing he had heard most recently, that of the senior officials of the Cuban Foreign Ministry who used their customary loaded language to describe relations with the U.S. The Nuncio cited some things he saw as successes coming from the visit, including progress on
HAVANA 00000245 002.2 OF 002
allowing the Church to have regular radio broadcasts and permission for construction on churches (though not to build entirely new churches).

6. (C) In a subsequent meeting, the usually cautious and circumspect Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, told COM and PolEcon Counselor that he was disappointed with the visit as a whole. Ortega complained about the level of Cardinal Bertone's homilies, which he described as doctoral-level essays on the theology of relativism--a worthy subject, but not what the Cuban people needed or wanted to hear about at this time. Ortega also was very unhappy about the decision to have the Cardinal visit the ELAM (Escuela Latino-American de Medicina or Latin American School of Medicine). There he met with foreign students dressed in native dress who extolled the benefits of being brought to Cuba to study medicine. The event was a blatant propaganda exercise directed at individuals who are not in any way related to the Cuban Catholic Church. Presumably, it was the price that had to be paid to allow the construction and dedication of the papal monument in Villa Clara to go forward.

7. (C) While disappointed in the visit of Cardinal Bertone, Ortega is already focused on a larger goal--another papal visit. He said that he hoped to convince the Vatican that it will be possible for the Pope to stop in Cuba upon his return from an already scheduled visit to Mexico in January 2009. Ortega expects that the Vatican will argue that the Pope will be too exhausted to do another visit, but he plans to argue that the flight to Cuba from Mexico is short; the visit would consist only of the dedication of the new seminary now under construction near Havana and a large, open-air mass; and that the Pope can then fly directly to Rome. As Ortega faces mandatory retirement for age at the end of 2009, this will be his last chance to get the Pope to Cuba. He hopes that a papal visit will help to fill the newly-opened seminary with Cuban candidates for the priesthood.

8. (C) The most positive reports regarding the Bertone visit came from outside of Havana. Santiago-based priest, Fr. XXXXXXXXXXXX, described the Catholic faithful in eastern Cuba as excited by the visit, and enthusiastic participants in the mass Bertone celebrated in the city of Guantanamo and his visit to the Basilica of the Copper Madonna near Santiago. XXXXXXXXXXXX thought the Cardinal's homilies on those occasions were appropriately directed to the interests of the local people and well-received. He agreed, however, with the overall assessment that the visit had not addressed the broader expectations of the Cuban people.

9. (C) COMMENT: The Cuban church hierarchy has been famous (or infamous) for taking a very mild stance relative to the Castro regime. Their goal, and that of the Vatican as well, has been to preserve and nurture back to health an institution that had been battered by the revolution. To achieve that goal, their center of gravity has been the regime, since it has always represented the biggest threat to the existence of the church as an institution. Through keeping the regime friendly, the Church hopes to build on small successes, like access to the airwaves and permission to construct Church-related buildings like the seminary. In the sense of achieving the goal of keeping the regime friendly, the Bertone visit could be considered a great success, therefore. However, it is a success that could come at the cost of a loss of confidence in the Church among the Cuban faithful. If those faithful feel the Catholic Church is not sensitive enough to their expectations, they may begin to drift away, perhaps to be picked up by the burgeoning evangelical and pentecostal movements on the island. Parish-level priests we spoke with in Havana are aware of this threat and were even more vocal in their disapproval of the Bertone visit. It goes without saying that we too are extremely disappointed by the fact that the Cardinal allowed himself to be used by the regime as a propaganda tool to bash U.S. policy. If an early-2009 papal visit is a viable option, the way might still be clear to recuperate some of the ground lost through Bertone's visit. But that will only happen if the Vatican has a change of heart about how it deals with this regime.


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