Pope to U.S.: Lift Cuban embargo
NEW YORK--Pope John Paul II, in his first visit ever to the island nation of Cuba, consistently delivered stinging condemnation of the U.S. embargo against the socialist country, calling the policy "oppressive, unjust and ethically unacceptable," and urged President Fidel Castro to open up his society. "A modern state cannot make atheism or religion one of its political ordinances," the pope told Mr. Castro.
In six separate addresses, Pope John Paul reiterated the themes of human rights, increased freedom for the church, the release of political prisoners, changes in Cuban social mores and Cuba's restoration to its proper place in the world. As he had throughout the pontiff's visit, the president shed his customary military fatigues for a blue suit.
On his departure from the country Jan. 25, the pope said, "imposed isolation strikes the people indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living, things such as food, health and education."
In recent months he has also criticized the U.S.-led sanctions against Muslim nations Libya and Iraq, hinting at visiting those countries.
The 77-year-old pontiff's comments join those of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has called international U.S.-led embargoes "weapons of mass destruction."
Others, including pastors, politicians, activists and a former U.S. military commander in the region, have said sanctions against Cuba are inhumane and need to end.
Currently on a World Friendship Tour III, Min. Farrakhan in 1997, led a delegation to Cuba, met with President Fidel Castro, and surveyed damage caused by the 35-year-old economic, medicine and food embargo. Since December, Min. Farrakhan has visited Libya, Iran and Iraq, calling for an end to U.S. and British-led UN sanctions.
The pontiff didn't suffer any of the media backlash, nor U.S. condemnation that Min. Farrakhan and others have suffered as a result of anti-sanctions statements. Why hasn't the Pope been blasted for "cavorting with rogues and dictators?"
"It's a question of power and a question of racism," said Bob Brown, of the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). The bottom line is that Pope John Paul II and his actions are accepted, Mr. Brown argued. "It's racism pure and simple. But, either way it vindicates the position of Kwame Ture and the A-APRP and Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam," he said.
Mr. Brown sneered at the media's suggestion of political fallout from the pope's visit. "What I see is a tremendous struggle inside the establishment in this country, governmental and non-governmental over the policy. I think that it may even temporarily harden the policy, in favor of the embargo," Mr. Brown said.
U.S. Senator Jesse Helms released a letter to the pontiff Jan. 21. The senator spoke in support of the trip, calling it an honor "to join millions of other Americans in expressing our solidarity." Since the pontiff's condemnation of sanctions, however, the head of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee and his staff have refused comment.
Min. Benjamin F. Muhammad, East Coast Regional Representative for Min. Farrakhan, sees the Cuban revolution as "the model for revolutionary theology" in Latin America for Christianity.
In 1984, Min. Benjamin, then a Christian pastor, was offered an opportunity by the Protestant church to teach theology at Havana's Theological Seminary. But his relationship with Cuba goes back to 1972, when he was a political prisoner in the Wilmington 10 case. Cuba supported the overturning of the group's conviction.
In the mid 1980s, the Rev. Charles Cobb, then head of the National Council of Black Clergy, also found religious freedom in Cuba. "I found religion to be more sincere in Cuba than in the United States," he said.
Father Lawrence Lucas, a Black Catholic priest in New York, criticized the Pope's visit. Father Lucas argues the visit should have taken place long ago and feels the pope subordinated "theology and scripture to the economic and political interests of the United States and other areas."
Father Lucas charged the United States with "killing and starving thousands and thousands of children," to force the Cuban government out of power. Cuba has done more to feed the poor, teach the ignorant and develop medicine than the United States has ever done, Father Lucas said.
In addition, he said the Pontiff should have exploited the attention of the world media better.
U.S. political prisoner living-in-exile, Assata Shakur on Jan. 19, forwarded a 2,000-word letter to the pontiff requesting stronger examination of the human rights record of the United States and the release of U.S. political prisoners. The letter was printed in publications around the world and in Havana.
President Castro challenged U.S. propaganda that suggested the dismantling of Cuba's political infrastructure. "Cuba knows no fear and despises deceit; it listens with respect but believes in its ideas; it firmly defends its principles and has nothing to hide from the world," he said.
The pope was met by thousands of people who turned out along parade routes and during his speeches, which dominated news coverage on Spanish language television stations in the United States. Pope John Paul II challenged Cuba to allow religious freedom and to reach out to the world.
But he also spoke forcefully to the estimated 1 million Cubans in exile, many of them in Miami, urging them to seek reconciliation and to avoid "useless confrontations."
"To the extent that they consider themselves Cubans, they, too, must cooperate, peacefully and in a constructive and respectful way, in the nation's progress, avoiding useless confrontations and encouraging ... dialogue," he said.
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