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Three Cuban Catholic priests ask Raúl Castro for 'free elections'

They criticize the 'absence of the Rule of Law' on the island and the 'economic neglect that the Cuban people suffer.'

La Habana

Three Catholic priests demanded that Raúl Castro organize "free elections" and a country "where life is respected" in the face of the "absence of the Rule of Law," in a letter sent to the general on Wednesday.

The priests, Castor José Álvarez de Devesa, José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre and Roque Nelvis Morales Fonseca, wrote the missive on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Mass for the Motherland, led by Saint John Paul II, known for the words of Monsignor Pedro Meurice in the Plaza Antonio Maceo of Santiago de Cuba, on January 24, 1998.

"On 1 January, the 59th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution was commemorated. A necessary Revolution in response to the atrocities committed with impunity by a power that had turned against this people. Many fought and many died to give their children a Cuba where they could live in freedom, peace and prosperity," they said.

Six decades later, with "sufficient grounds to evaluate what we have experienced in our land," they regret that "since the institutionalization of the Communist Party as the only one authorized, this people has never been allowed to express a different opinion," and he who has tried to do so "has been silenced."

They lament that "this totalitarian style has permeated every level of society."

"Cubans know that they have no freedom of expression, and avoid saying what they think and feel, because they live in fear, often even of those with whom they live every day (...) We live in a web of lies that extends from the home to the highest spheres. We say and do what we do not believe or feel, knowing that others are doing the same."

"We lie to survive, hoping that someday this game will end, or an escape route will appear in a foreign land. Jesus Christ said: 'the truth will set you free.' We want to live in the truth," the Cuban priests added.

They expressed regret that "the monopoly and control of the means of social communication means that nobody can access public means of communication freely" and that "similarly, there is no alternative education."

"Every Cuban child is compelled to receive schooling, but only under a single school model, and a single ideology, and a single way of thinking. Cubans have the right to have educational alternatives and options for other ways of thought, and Cuban parents should have the right to choose what kind of education they want for their children," they wrote to Castro.

In the priests’ opinion, "the economic distress suffered by the Cuban people is deplorable, forced by circumstances to beg for help from relatives who have managed to go abroad, or from foreigners who visit us...or to steal everything they can, redubbing theft with words that soothe the conscience."

"Many families lack a minimally stable economy that allows them to acquire the basics of life without distress. Eating, dressing and putting shoes on their children's feet is a daily problem. Public transport is a problem. Even access to many medications is a problem. And in the midst of this people who are struggling to survive, there is the silent suffering of the elderly, often silently unprotected," they observe.

They ask: "how can one say that capital belongs to the people when they don't decide what to do with it?"

Also, "how can the necessary public institutions be maintained without the necessary resources? Why are foreigners invited to come and invest their money while Cubans are not given the same opportunities?"

In this regard, they believe that "Cubans have the right to participate as investors in the economy and in our country's negotiations."

A lack of freedom

With regards to the lack of religious freedom, they believe that "the Church is tolerated, but is still watched and controlled."

"Full religious freedom is curtailed, through the controlled freedom of worship permits. Christians can gather to share their faith, but they are not allowed to build places of worship. The Church can hold processions, and even public masses, but always contingent upon express permission from the authorities who, if it is not granted, allow no appeals and provide no explanations."

They also point out that "the Church can raise its voice in its temples, but it does not have free access to the mass media and, on those few occasions when it is able to speak, it is always subject to censorship. And laity are censored when they try to apply their faith to political and social practice."

"This social dynamic developed in Cuba, has forgotten the individual, his dignity as a child of God, and his inalienable rights, almost 60 years after this people subscribed to an ideal that is always postponed, and never realized. When someone raises questions, when someone speaks out, they only find vulnerability and exclusion," reads the text sent to General Raúl Castro.

"We want a country where life is more respected, from conception to natural death, where the union of the family is strengthened and marriage between a man and a woman is supported, in which pensions allow our seniors to survive, in which professionals can live with dignity on their salaries, in which citizens can become entrepreneurs, and there is more freedom of work and hiring for athletes and artists. Young Cubans should find work opportunities that allow them to develop their talents and abilities here, rather than seeking a way out of Cuba."

According to the priests, in Cuba "legality is subordinated to power, and the State is not subject to the Rule of Law, which would require a clear distinction and independence of the three powers: Executive, Legislative and Judicial."

"We want our judges not to be pressured, and that the law mean order, and that illegality not be a way to subsist, or a weapon of domination. We want our Capitol to be filled with legislators who, wielding full power, represent the interests of their constituents," they expressed.  

In the priests' view, the Cuban people "are demoralized and weary. There exists a standstill that can be summed up in two words: survive or escape."

"Cubans need to enjoy the joy of 'thinking and speaking without hypocrisy,' expressing different political opinions. We are tired of waiting, tired of running away, tired of hiding. We want to live our own lives," they write.

"Choosing freely"

They believe that their letter "also has a purpose, a right," which is that of "choosing freely."

"In Cuba there is voting, but no elections. We urgently need elections through which we can decide not only our future, but also our present. Now we are invited to 'vote', to say 'yes' to what already is in place, but there is no will to change. Choosing entails, in itself, different options. Choosing entails the possibility of taking several paths."

The priests, from Camagüey, Cienfuegos and Holguín, explain that the intention behind their letter "is to prevent Cuba from some day suffering violent changes, which would only add more useless suffering."

"We still have time to engage in a progressive process, towards a plurality of options, allowing favorable change for all. But time is running out. Now is the time to open the door."

"It's no use hiding the truth. There is no point in pretending that everything is fine. It is useless to cling to power. Our teacher, Jesus Christ, spoke words relevant to Cubans today: 'What does it profit a man should he gain the whole world, but lose his soul?' We are in time to build a different reality. We are in time to build a Cuba like the one Marti envisioned: 'with everyone, and for the good of everyone'."

"We entrust ourselves to the intercession of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba. May she, the Mother of all Cubans, intercede before the Lord of history who, as His Holiness Benedict XVI, said in Cuba: 'not only respects human freedom, but seems to need it', so that we can always choose the greatest good for all," they conclude.

Father Castor José Álvarez de Devesa is the parish priest at Cura del Modelo, in Camagüey; José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, at San Francisco de Paula, in Trinidad, Cienfuegos; and Roque Nelvis Morales Fonseca, at Cueto, in Holguín.

Alvarez de Devesa and Conrado Rodriguez led a mass last year at the headquarters of the Ladies in White, in Lawton, Havana, to try to bring religious rites to a group much beleaguered by the regime.

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