Pope’s envoy to Cuba calls for release of jailed anti-government protesters

By Juan Palop

Havana, Feb 8 (EFE).- Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Pope Francis’s envoy, on Wednesday in Havana called for the release of any Cubans who were arrested for participating in the anti-government protests that rocked the country on July 11, 2021.

Stella made his remarks during the final phase of his visit to Cuba, during which he recalled the trip Pope John Paul II made 25 years ago to the communist island, a visit at the time was considered to be historic.

“The pope greatly desires there to be a positive response” from the Cuban government to the requests of the Catholic Church that convicted demonstrators be released, the cardinal said in comments to the media.

He said that it was secondary whether releasing the protesters would be legally defined as an amnesty or clemency, since “the words can also be secondary” to securing freedom for the people in question.

“But it’s important that the young people who at a certain time expressed their thinking in the way with which we’re familiar can return home,” he emphasized.

Stella said that during his visit to Cuba he had been able to express to Cuban authorities this “longing” of the Church, adding his desire that starting from this “useful and positive moment” resulting from his trip that “new things may be born for the Cuban people.”

A little earlier on Wednesday, in a speech at the University of Havana attended by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the papal envoy emphasized that “one cannot subordinate freedom to any calculation of interests (or) situations, hoping for better times.”

He added that Cuba “must be free of all interference,” but it must also ensure that “its children may be free men and women,” going on to say that freedom has to allow material and spiritual growth.

Stella called for “promoting reconciliation and brotherhood” from “diversity” and not from “the similarity of ideas,” and he demanded a “culture of encounter” that fosters the creation of “bridges” whereby people may “proceed together.”

In his remarks to the media, the cardinal emphasized the role of dialogue, in terms of “kindness and respect,” both in his conversations with top Cuban officials and in the relations between Havana and the United States. “By talking, solutions can be found,” he said.

The Vatican wants “those who are in power to be mutually able to speak, to be able to listen,” said Stella, because “from this things that benefit the Cuban people can come forth.”

“I hope that (this dialogue) comes about and comes about quickly, and that it constitutes an important step for many advances that the Cuban people really need. There are things that must be done and done quickly,” he added.

Stella also made reference to the heavy emigration flow that Cuba is currently experiencing, having lost about 3 percent of its population in 2022 alone, mainly due to the severe economic crisis, but also due to ongoing political repression.

The pope’s envoy asked that Cubans be able to make “their yearnings and hopes” into a reality in their country and for young people there to realize their “dreams.”

Pope Francis was one of the international artificers of the rapprochement between the US and Cuba that came about in 2014-2017 between former Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro, respectively, a phase that is known as a thawing in bilateral relations.

However, the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House ended that process and even reversed it, with Washington’s implementation of new sanctions on Havana – added to those that were already in existence – and the US inclusion of Cuba on its list of states sponsoring terrorism.

In recent months, there has been a discrete and pragmatic, albeit partial, reconciliation between the two countries in areas of common interest, including migration and national security, and some of Washington’s more recent sanctions on the island have been eliminated.

Stella arrived in Cuba on Jan. 23 on a trip to mark the 25th anniversary of the pastoral visit to Cuba made by John Paul II, the first pontiff to visit the island. Later, his two successors – Benedict XVI and Francis I – also visited the communist nation.

After his first few days in Havana, during which he met with some of Cuba’s top officials, Stella began a trip around the island to visit all the Catholic dioceses and meet with the bishops and other religious officials there.

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