THE BLOG
12/12/2014 03:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cardinal Bertono Returns to Cuba


Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 December 2014 -- Six years ago Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone came through the front door to Cuba. This December, however, he has returned on a private visit which is evidence of the discrete recognition of failure. For the former Vatican Foreign Minister, the time between one stay and another has been filled with missteps. This is a man who returns in disgrace. Just like what has happened with the "Raul reforms" that he validated with his presence.

Cardinal Bertone has arrived on the Island to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but on this occasion, far from the cameras and the presidential palace. The man who helped to coordinate the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, has participated this week in the consecration in Santa Clara of a sanctuary to the Virgin of Charity del Cobre, Cuba's patron saint.

Now, he prefers the ecclesiastical circles and has returned to the Cobre Sanctuary, where he said mass. The context today is very different from his previous stay, a few days after the installation of Raul Castro as president, which the prelate described as a "special, extraordinary moment." In that February, he also asserted that the General "will continue (...) with a vision, if at all possible, of development." However, the reality on display this December is stubbornly to the contrary.

The Cuba he is returning to is far from the hopes that some sheltered with the coming to power of Fidel Castro's brother. Part of the Cuban population imagined the possibilities of an economic and political opening. However, the economic flexibilities ended up untying some knots only to tie others, and civil liberties never arrived.

Six years ago, Bertone said that he would have a conversation with "clarity, sincerity, an exchange," with the new president, but the president seems not to have listened. The price paid by the former Vatican Foreign Minister for this family photo with the Government was high. While officialdom protected him, the most critical sector of the Catholic Church doesn't look kindly on that embrace between the sickle and the cross. Excluding the dissidents from any possible dialog with the Cardinal, also signaled the bias of his point of view.

Accustomed to moving influences and cooking up agreements, the Vatican number two thought he could unstick the wheels of change. He met with Cuba's Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, who a few weeks later would be ousted and accused by Fidel Castro himself of having become addicted to "the honey of power." Those faces that once welcomed him with smiles, today are no longer here or are in hiding.

Bertone, who was also the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy Office), came six years ago to teach at a conference in the Main Hall of the University of Havana. Even the newspaper Granma had something of the odor of incense in those days and published a communication from the Cuban bishops, in which they called on Raul Castro to take "transcendental measures" to satisfy the "anxieties and concerns expressed by Cubans."

Bertone already saw his name in the history of Cuba. The mass that he celebrated in Havana Cathedral focused on the search for larger spaces for the Church within Cuba. In exchange for the ability to gain this space, he accepted all the concessions required. He adopted the official discourse against the "American blockade," he didn't meet with regime opponents, and he validated the flexibilizations offered by power as the path to the dreamed of country.

Today, Bertone is not who he was... nor is Cuba what he predicted. Said to have mismanaged influence, now separated from the epicenter of Vatican power, and touched by the scandal of the letters revealed by Benedict XVI's butler, the man who has come to this Island is a shadow. But the Raul regime reforms are also shadows. Economic relaxations that haven't managed, after more than five years since they began, to allow Cubans to live in dignity, nor have they provided larger spaces of freedom.

Chance or destiny -- who knows? -- this time the Bertone's mass at El Cobre coincides with International Human Rights Day. A few kilometers from the sanctuary where he addressed the congregation, dozens of activists have been confined to their homes, threatened, and some of them have been arrested to prevent their participating in events planned to celebrate this date. The Cuba he did not want to see on his previous trip is knocking on the door with a call that combines desperation and reproach.

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14ymedio, Cuba's first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.