People in Havana shout slogans against the government July 11, 2021, after thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest a lack of food and medicine as the country was undergoing a grave economic crisis. The protests were quickly shut down. Cuban ex-pats in Canada have condemned Pope Francis, right, for not rebuking Cuban authorities for cracking down on the protests. CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

Ex-pats critical of Pope Francis' silence on Cuba

By 
  • July 21, 2022

Edmonton-based Cuban Catholics Eickerman Campos and Yanet Rodriguez Herrero said the people of their birth country and fellow emigrants residing in a new homeland are feeling largely disregarded by the global community a year after protests raged in Cuba against the communist authorities. 

“At this point as Cuban Catholics, we feel like we are in a fight where we are very alone,” said Herrero. “We have asked the United Nations and the Canadian government to strongly condemn the communist dictatorship, and to stop relations that power its economy. But they are very light in their statements.

“It feels like if there will be change in Cuba, it will have to be done by Cubans ourselves.”

Economic turmoil and entrenched authoritarianism from the Communist Party of Cuba kindled a flame of revolution throughout the island country last summer. Multiple street rallies broke out on July 11, 2021 in San Antonio de los Baños near Havana and soon the protests spread like wildfire to other municipalities. 

The early days of the struggle did attract worldwide media attention. Soon marches of solidarity cropped up around the world. Campos and Herrero, who departed Cuba in 2006, engaged in many demonstrations for several months. They carried posters bearing “Libertad” — a Spanish chant for freedom. Others read “Patria y Vida,” meaning “Homeland and Life” — a symbolic rejection of the 1960 Cuban Revolution official motto “Patria o Muerte, Venceremos,” — “Homeland or death, we shall overcome.”

The Cuban protests were quickly quelled by military force, hundreds of arrests and telecommunications blackouts soon after they began, however.

Still, the Edmonton couple are not giving up on their homeland. Herrero, a University of Alberta PhD student, and her husband Campos, an architect, voraciously scour the Internet for as much on-the-ground intel as possible. They say the subjugation of the populace is unyielding. Food, fuel and electricity shortages are rampant. Law enforcement brigades sweep main roads and neighbourhoods to dissuade future protests. Suspected political dissidents are monitored on social media and sometimes summoned for exhaustive police interrogations.

Spanish non-government organization Prisoners and Defenders reported at least 200 citizens disappeared without a trace in the early days of last summer’s turmoil. In the following months, over 700 people — thus far — have been imprisoned between five and 30 years. As of yet, no family member or friend of Herrero and Campos have been incarcerated. To protect their loved ones, fearful of government surveillance, they do not attempt contact.

The Catholic Register first spoke to Campos and Herrero in August 2021. During that interview they said they were “so disappointed” with the remarks Pope Francis delivered shortly after the unrest began. The Pontiff said, “I am near to the dear Cuban people” and he prayed “the Lord might help the nation build a society that is more just and more fraternal through peace, dialogue and solidarity.”

Campos criticized the statement for “being very soft,” failing to condemn the regime and not commenting “about the people who disappeared or the people who were jailed.”

It led them to reach out to multiple Canadian religious institutions for weeks last autumn, urging Church leaders to press the Pope for a proclamation outright denouncing the government.

Days before the one-year anniversary of the protest, Pope Francis was questioned about Cuba during an interview with Reuters. He said, “Cuba is a symbol, Cuba has a great history.” He also spoke of the people and leaders he had built relationships with, including Raul Castro, the president from 2011 until he stepped down in April 2021.

“Unsurprising” to Campos and Herrero, the leader of the Catholic Church did not rebuke the Communist Party of Cuba for acts of oppression.

“The Cuban Catholics in Edmonton are very disappointed in the Pope for his position,” said Campos. “He said he has a close relationship with the dictatorship that is persecuting the Cuban people who he said he is close with and loves. As a representative of God, there is something wrong there.”

Without diving into specifics, Campos said the Pope “will see from far away how disappointed we are” during the Edmonton leg of the papal visit July 24-26. He responded, “I don’t know, maybe,” when asked if they would stage a protest at one of the events open to the public.

Campos is also urging Canadians to once again renew focus on the Cuban situation and resist gifting the regime with tourism dollars. Canadians make up the largest number of tourists that visit the island nation.

“Canadians should not go for a vacation in Cuba, as their tourism dollars only strengthen the dictatorship,” said Herrero. “Tourism money does not get funnelled to critical institutions such as hospitals and schools.” Instead, it will “go towards building more hotels, and fueling the police, repression and dictator.”

As for the current situation in Cuba, media outlets reported that the government anticipated protests to reignite on the anniversary date, though there has been no news on that front in world media. Still, it’s only a matter of time until a renewed push for “libertad” rises again, said Herrero.

“The economic situation is not getting any better. The only people who can emigrate have a lot of money. Inside the country, the situation is becoming like a pressure cooker. I think at any moment, at any time, we will see protests like the ones that happened last year.”

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