HAVANA (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cuba's security forces unleashed days-long violent repression against Cubans demanding an end to communism — but no word on it yet from Pope Francis.
Francis returned from the hospital on Wednesday, July 14 following colon surgery, but did not mention Cuba's plight. Matto Bruni of the Holy See Press Office confirmed that when His Holiness went to pray at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where he sat before the icon of the Virgin Mary, he instead expressed gratitude for the success of his surgery and offered a prayer for all the sick, especially those he met in the hospital.
Addressing "people of good will," the Cuban bishops paraphrased Pope Francis, who, they declared, "teaches us that crises are not overcome by confrontation but by seeking understanding." They asked that the parties reach "common agreement" and take "tangible steps to contribute, with the contribution of all Cubans, to building up their homeland."
The clerics' appeal came after protests emerged July 11 in Havana, Camaguey, Santiago, Matanzas and other cities, prompting a violent response by Cuba's government into the next day. Some citizens waved signs reading, "Down with communism!"
The bishops' document read, "We beg the Virgin of Charity, Queen and Mother of all Cubans, an ever-pouring source of reconciliation, to make Cuba a home for brothers and sisters and where the search for truth and common good prevail."
Seeking to balance what they called the communists' "responsibilities" with their own, the bishops claimed to understand that fellow Cubans have a right to "publicly express how some measures are affecting them." The bishops did not clarify who should be the interlocutors to speak to Cuba's totalitarian system.
Dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba's president handpicked by Fidel Castro's brother and successor Raul, denounced those clamoring for freedom as "counter-revolutionaries." Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla claimed they were financed by the United States.
Some demonstrators were seen carrying the American flag during encounters with police and army units. Also, images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary were carried on the shoulders of Catholics demanding reforms.
Observers have noted that the police and army are forcing ordinary citizens to serve as auxiliaries, arming them with clubs to beat their fellow Cubans.
The number of those arrested or killed by security forces remains unknown. Cuban authorities are reluctant for any independent parties to enter prisons and jails to check on prisoners' welfare.
Ordinary citizens, Catholic priests, Protestant pastors, and independent journalists have been arrested, but their condition is unknown. Estimates of the number of detainees run from 100 to more than 148. The Cubalex human rights group is gathering the names of detainees and the places of their arrests.
Numerous priests, some wearing cassocks, have been seen on the streets exhorting the armed forces and unarmed citizens to refrain from violence.
Father Cástor Álvarez was beaten by police on July 11 in the city of Camagüey. Accused of disorderly conduct, he was jailed after defending a group of young people. After negotiations with Church officials, jailers released the priest the next day. However, the five young Catholic men with the priest remain detained; their whereabouts remains unknown.
In addition, seminarian Rafael Cruz Débora was violently taken from his home July 12; his condition is unknown. Protestant pastors Yéremi Blanco Ramírez and Yarian Sierra were also arrested.
John Suarez, a Catholic who leads the Center for a Free Cuba, told Church Militant there is a "very ugly picture of mass arrests, beatings, some killing."
Appealing for "public diplomacy" on the part of the Biden administration, Tyson Foods sells Arkansas chicken to Cuba, he noted.
"These communists buy chicken in the U.S. at $1 per kilo but sell it to Cubans at $7 per kilo." He denounced the "exploitative" prices charged by Cuba's government-run importing and business firm, GAESA.
Suarez admitted that Cuba's bishops "could have gone further and should have gone further" to help their flock. "But we're dealing with a Church [that], when it did go further in the early 1960s, paid a heavy price. The most courageous priests and hierarchy were removed from the country at gunpoint."
Suarez lamented that since then, "Courageous priests who stand by the people when the regime identifies them and begin to cause problems — the Vatican tends to transfer them somewhere else."
"We'll see what happens and what they do. Because they are terrified of police on the street killing people, beating priests and disappearing seminarians," he added.
President Joe Biden stated July 12 that the Cuban regime should respect human rights "rather than enriching themselves."
His Secretary of State, Alex Mayorkas, told a press conference that persecuted Cubans should not think about coming to the United States. Despite Democrats' howling criticisms prior to the 2020 elections about immigrant drownings overseas, Mayorkas sternly warned: "Allow me to be clear. If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States." Commenters on social media were quick to observe escapees from communist Cuba tend to vote Republican, not Democrat.
A State Department official suggested in a Tweet that Cubans were merely protesting the lack of COVID vaccines, not the repression and deprivation of food, goods and services caused by the communists' failed centralized planning. But Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted Cubans are "opposed to the oppression ... to the mismanagement of the government."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist who caucuses with Democrats, blamed U.S. sanctions and a trade embargo for Cuba's economic malaise. In this, Sanders was echoed by Cuban president Diaz-Canel. Other Democrats are calling for an end to sanctions on Cuba.
Four House Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all of whom also belong to the Democratic Socialists of America, have been silent about the democracy demonstrations.
In a July 12 congressional roundtable on the Cuban crisis, Florida governor Ron DeSantis dismissed the notion that vaccines prompted protests, saying:
If we are understanding the stakes, if we are understanding why people are revolting, and we are siding with the Cuban people, you could probably get the policies right at that point. If you go into it thinking that they're upset about a vaccine shortage ... then you clearly have no hope of getting a favorable outcome."
Cuban security forces have been seen firing weapons, beating and arresting citizens on the streets. For 62 years, Cuba's security forces have murdered democratic dissidents and Christian leaders — as well as fostering revolution elsewhere in Latin America.
Notably, communist China announced it "stands ready to work with Cuba" — an apparent pledge to quell the citizen protests.