[Marxism] Catholic's passion sets him apart in Cuba

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Oct 30 03:39:56 MST 2005

(After posting this previously, some additional information about this
topic came to my attention and I've expanded this introduction to make
it somewhat more complete factually and to give it further context.)

"Everybody knows", as Canadian singer Leonard Cohen might describe
it, that under Castro's brutal atheistic dictatorship, there are no
human rights and everyone who disagrees with the Commander in Chief
goes directly to jail, without passing "Go" nor collecting $200.00.

And yet here is the fascinating portrait of a Cuban dissident who has
NEVER been arrested, has travelled to the Vatican, and directs an
independent publication on an island where all media are supposedly
controlled completely by the Communist regime. Also, by the way, from
Vanessa Arrington's sympathetic profile, we don't learn what attitude
he takes toward things like the Varela Project, which has rather
conspicuously NOT been endorsed by Cuba's Roman Catholic Church.

Perhaps this one doesn't take money from the U.S. Interests Section and 
doesn't publicly call for foreign companies not to to business with his home
country? He wouldn't be the first Cuban opponent of the Revolution to find a
way to criticize the government and not collaborate with the United States
government in its relentless campaign to overthrow Cuba's Revolution... and
therefore, as a result, has never been arrested...Could there be a message
in these possibly interconnected facts?

My colleague Nelson Valdes, director of Cuba-L listserv further explains
"There is a Catholic publication for every province in Cuba. Vitral, which
is published in Pinar del Rio, is probably the best known, but there are 
others. These publications are financed by the Catholic church of Germany. 
There are print publications from other religious denominations as well. 
None of the publications go through a censor."

Walter adds: I'm holding in my hands a copy of the professionally-printed
journal "Aqui La Iglesia" on whose masthead we read "Boletin oficial de la
Aquidioces de la Habana. Editado por la Departamento de Medios de Communi-
cacion.Azbobispado de la Habana, Calle Habana 152 esquina a Chacon. CP
Ciudad de la Habana, Tel: 862-4000." I picked this one up on Calle Obispo in

Habana Vieja a week or two ago. And I have seen other publications by
other Cuban denominations whose journals are similarly published and then
are distributed without any apparent difficulty. This month's issue of Aqui
Iglesia features a cover story on the ground breaking for the new "San
y San Ambrosio seminary building, presided over by Jaime Ortega, the
and archbishop of Havana, and attended by teachers and students of this
Other stories in this issue - October 2005 - include aid being given by the
Havana archidioces to the youngest archdioces in Cuba, that of Guantanamo-
Baracoa, in Cuba's eastern-most region, who declares its willingness to aid
any other dioces which also needs priests.

And these church journals, just to make the point, could be contrasted with
for one example - Granma, which describes itself as "Organo official del 
Comite Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba."

Personally I am an atheist, however I like to tell friends and acquaintences

"And God willing, I always will be", which is just a way of explaining that
is not one of great interest to me as an individual. Like many human
religion provides a mixture of good and bad things to human experience. Ask
musician whose grown up in the Black church of the United States. I also
people should be free to practice, or not practice whatever religious faith
choose to. My sense is that this right is respected in Cuba today.

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

Catholic's passion sets him apart in Cuba
By Vanessa Arrington
Published October 29, 2005

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba -- He's on the Vatican's 30-member peace and
justice council, but his state-appointed job in Cuba consists of
spending eight hours a day in a shed guarding palm tree stalks used
to make cigar boxes.

One might say Dagoberto Valdes has failed to reach his potential. But
the 49-year-old Roman Catholic layman says punishments including his
latest job assignment have emancipated him.

"There are people who have all the power in the world, and they're
unhappy," said Mr. Valdes, speaking from the church's bishopric in
the western city of Pinar del Rio. "I trade that for the interior
satisfaction in knowing that I've been able to walk as a free,
responsible person. That is priceless."

Mr. Valdes is a man of faith and an innate optimist. His spirituality
helps him overcome the daily challenges of pushing for increased
civic and economic freedoms in communist Cuba, where he is a strong
alternative voice.

He spends his nights as volunteer director of the independent Vitral
magazine, writing and editing provocative articles on the state of
affairs, religious and otherwise, in Cuba. During the day, he works
his shift at the shed on state-controlled grounds.

"It's what I call the palm tree cathedral," Mr. Valdes said with a
chuckle as he described a soaring, long storage area filled with rows
and rows of the stalks. "As the day passes, I just meditate, and

Equally devoted to Catholicism and freedom of expression, Mr. Valdes
is among the most consistent and eloquent critics of Fidel Castro's

He is marginalized by his location in the western extreme of Cuba --
an island where most political activity and international press
attention generate from Havana -- and perhaps by his religious zeal
in a nation once officially atheist.

But his deep connection to the church gives him credibility. It's
difficult to swallow the idea he is a "mercenary" controlled by the
United States -- a blanket accusation used against government
opponents here.

Mr. Valdes has no specific political agenda. But through his
magazine, as well as the nongovernmental Center for Civil and
Religious Rights he runs in Pinar, he has created an independent
channel to express himself -- and encourage other Cubans to do the

"The soul of Cubans has no price," he wrote in a Vitral article this
year that criticized a highly touted government distribution of rice
steamers at subsidized prices. "Each Cuban man and woman is worth
more than all the material and psychological incentives that can be

In the article, Mr. Valdes argued that Cubans should receive just
wages in lieu of rice steamers, and urged his countrymen to open
their eyes to government attempts to buy their loyalty.

"This is now the price of unconditional support," he wrote.

When Mr. Valdes speaks, it is often in metaphors. For him, communist
Cuba is a log cabin. The doors and windows are sealed shut, and only
slivers of light glint through the cracks in the logs.

"Those of us inside don't have light, but we know that there is light
outside," he said. "The problem isn't whether light exists -- it's
that the cabin is closed off."

In the decades since Castro's socialist revolution, thousands of
Cubans have fled the cabin, leaving behind homes and families.
They're searching, as Mr. Valdes sees it, for light.

"This has been the greatest tragedy of the Cuban people these last 46
years," he said. "They confused the solution. The one who has to
leave is the one who sealed the house, not the inhabitants."

Mr. Valdes has remained, despite having plenty of reasons to leave.

In his youth, he wanted to study sociology and become a professor,
but the religious discrimination of the 1970s limited his academic
choices and he became an agronomist.

He worked several years in a state-owned tobacco company, making his
way up to president and managing groups of engineers. But in 1996,
two years after founding Vitral, he said the government told him:
"It's Vitral, or your job."

He chose the magazine, and was sent to the fields to collect palm
stalks with a work brigade. Four years later, he was told he was a
negative influence on the other workers, and was moved to the shed.
He has worked in solitude there for five years.

"What a human being values more, costs more," said Mr. Valdes, who is
of stout build and serious nature. "Yes, I have felt injured, and
discriminated against. But that's also been the most enriching
experience of my life."

The Cuban government, which considers him an undesirable, declined to
comment on Mr. Valdes.

Five years ago, however, it attacked him in state-run press after he
met with a Polish advocate of nonviolent resistance to communist
rule. In May 2000, the Communist Party's daily newspaper, Granma,
described him as "a harsh enemy ... who tries to defend his actions
by wrapping them in the respect, consideration and opportunities that
the Revolution gives to all of the Catholic Church's religious

The church defended Mr. Valdes, calling him a man of integrity who
loves his country. He also is the only Cuban on the Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace, which investigates claims of human
rights violations worldwide.

Mr. Valdes said he still draws inspiration from Pope John Paul II,
who gave Cubans a gentle but candid prod during a visit to the island
in 1998 that the layman helped organize.

" 'You all are, and must be, the protagonists of your own personal
and national history,' Mr. Valdes quoted the pope as saying, beaming
at the mention of his hero.

Cuba's smear campaign against him was overt, but Mr. Valdes has
mostly dealt with subtle limitations. He has never been jailed, and
has been able to travel freely, including to meetings at the Vatican
in Rome.

It is just a matter of time, Mr. Valdes said, before Cubans swallow
their fear and demand more political, economic and religious

"I am someone who has spent decades hoping," he said. "For decades I
have been putting forth, I have been forgiving, I have been staying."

"And I'm still waiting," he added. "But hope is invincible."

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