Sunday, March 18, 2012

Differing Similarities

   Having the Pope visiting Cuba next week will be a positive experience for the Catholics who live there.  Not only will it be an experience for only those who live on the island, but a number of people from the United States will be travelling there to witness the event.  Many of these plans are being arranged or aided by the Catholic Church in Miami and Archbishop Wenski of that city.

   Of course as all things relating to Cuba are politicized, the media and certain personalities have done what they can to politicize the Pope's trip.  The usual extremists in South Florida have expressed their dismay with the event, powerless to do anything about it.  They are also powerless when it comes to convincing many of the Cubans on this side of the straits that they shouldn't want to travel to the island.

   In the weeks leading up to the Pope's visit, all that these individuals and the press have been able to do is attempt to create more bad publicity for the island than they usually do.  The most interesting and absurd event took place the other day when a group of individuals decided to enter a church in Havana and stay there demanding the Pope's attention.

   Perhaps realizing the unlikelihood of having the Pope as an audience, their demands evolved.  They decided on demanding the release of individuals that they and other "dissident" groups like to consider political prisoners.  The weakness of their case is that the individuals who they call "political" prisoners are actually people who have committed violent acts and are not considered "prisoners of conscience" by anyone serious.  If these people committed violence for political aims, most places would consider them terrorists!  But having so few issues to rally behind, these folks decided to make this their cause.

   After refusing to leave the church for some days despite the church officials asking them to, the church asked the authorities to intervene to bring this situation to an end.  Nothing terrible happened to these people, they left the church in a matter of a few minutes and didn't face any sort of prosecution or anything.  Everything went peacefully and the situation was over. 

   Here is where things are interesting.  This event was treated in our press as if there was some sort of outrageous reaction by the church and the police involved.  Like I said, things ended peacefully.

   According to the Miami Herald, "The operation to end the occupation of the Minor Basilica of the Church of Our Lady of Charity in downtown Havana was specifically requested by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, Orlando Marquez.

A statement released shortly after the dissidents were extracted from the church and published Friday in Granma, the Cuban’s Communist Party’s paper and website, said the 13 repeatedly refused to evacuate despite “unilateral’’ requests from church officials and others.
“For this reason” the cardinal asked government authorities to “invite” the occupants to leave the church, the statement said, adding that the Cardinal was assured the dissidents would be safe once outside the church.

The group, which entered the church Tuesday, was demanding the release of political prisoners, Internet access, free speech and discussion of a road map for building the rule of law in Cuba.
The statement said that the eviction took place at 9 p.m. Thursday and lasted 10 minutes.

“The 13 occupiers were invited to leave the church and offered no resistance. The officers who executed the operation had assured the church that they would not carry weapons, would move the 13 people to a police station and then would take them home. Authorities also gave assurances that they would not be prosecuted,” the statement said."

   This became a major story over the course of a few days.  Let's take a look at another situation and how it was handled in England recently.

  According to the Guardian, "Police and bailiffs moved in to begin clearing the Occupy London encampment in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Activists protesting against the financial and banking elite were told by bailiffs that they had five minutes to pack their tents and leave or they would be obstructing a court order.

Dozens of activists started clearing away tents and belongings, but others began building a barricaded enclosure using wooden pallets and debris.

Hundreds of police officers with riot helmets ready by their sides and dozens of bailiffs in yellow vests waited alongside rubbish lorries and watched the eviction."

   Ok.  If people are engaged in civil disobedience, they are often times expecting this sort of outcome.  But why is it that the show of force by the police in a country that is not Cuba not questioned in the same manner that the police in Cuba are?  Comparing the two situations, we know that the police in Havana treated the people who refused to leave in a manner that appears to be a lot less intimidating that the way the London police chose, but we are supposed to feel that somehow the police in Cuba are oh so repressive and horrible.  Seems like that's the image that our press tries to create for us as we read about Cuba. 

   This is an example of how our press chooses to report on Cuba.  Rarely are things put in to context, as if Cuba existed in a bubble and there would be no way to compare its actions and decisions with those of other countries.  Given the number and size of the protests that have sprung up all over the world during the past year, it seems ridiculous to compare the small number of actions in Cuba by mainly people who are in constant contact with the U.S. Interests Section's officials and news agencies which are historically hostile towards Cuba.  These things lend credibility to the idea that much of the information we receive about Cuba through our press and government officials are designed to misinform us about the situation in Cuba.  This is something more easily done by limiting our ability to travel to the island and see things for ourselves.  Many of the athletes and groups of travellers who have been able to get to the island, come back with a much different perspective than what they had expected.  They get to see Cuba as it is, with its blemishes and imperfections, but also for its positive aspects also.  This must be what those people who so vehemently oppose opening travel and relations fear the most, losing control of the ability to dominate what we know about Cuba.



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