The driver of a water truck listens
to the mass in Santa Clara.
VOICES FROM CUBA
For all the confusion the
Pope’s visit caused the exile community, it made one thing clear: Cubans
opposed to all contact with the island still pound their fists the loudest.
The Archdiocese of New York received bomb threats because of its pilgrimage
to Cuba. When American Airlines offered to fly Boston’s cardinal, Cuban
activists threatened a boycott. A Miami cruise ship scheduled to dock more
than 1,000 on Cuba’s shores was also grounded after a month-long campaign
by high profile, big-ticket exiles who argued that the “floating basilica”
sent the wrong message. Even though the ship’s casinos would be closed,
it was too decadent. The church is now trying to recoup the $800,000 it
shelled out by selling a true Caribbean cruise complete with open casinos.
The message to exiles: Don’t fork over your money to Fidel. It worked well.
Of the more than 400 people who flew from New York, only a fourth were
Cuban. “You take a social risk going,” explains Manela Diez, 55, of WashIngton,
The Pope certainly tested the faith of Cuban exiles, who are mostly Catholic.
Nobody faced a bigger dilemma over the visit than nationalistic Cuban priests.
Some, like Miami’s Bishop Augustin Roman and outspoken New Jersey priest
Raul Comesanas, stayed away. Comesanas found a biblical explanation for
not greeting his Pope: the Virgin Mary had fled Herod and never returned.
He calls his interpretation the “theology of exile.” Cubans face a religious
quandary: can they be good Catholics and hate Fidel Castro with all their
souls? “As Catholics, we must forgive. Forgive even Fidel Castro,” says
one exile who made the trip. But she wouldn’t give her name because other
Cubans “would kill me.”
Forgiveness might be too much to ask of the older generation of Cubans,
but the hardest line are dying out. A few months ago, Jorge Mas Canosa--the
most powerful and least forgiving Cuban exile--died of cancer. The void
will now be filled with more opinions. Already, prominent Cubans like singer
Gloria Estefan have tried to speak up for rapprochement with the island.
(She was shot down with vows to burn her CDs). Despite all the tough talk
on tightening the U.S. embargo, tens of thousands of Cuban-born flout it
each year by visiting. A forthcoming United Nations study found that in
1996, Cuban exiles sent some $800 million to the island; more than the
revenue from either tourism or sugar. “As Cuba opens, Miami opens. They
mirror each other,” says Lazaro Farinas, 55, who runs an export business
in Miami and has been visiting Cuba since 1994.
Alicia Rodriguez-Bower is neither political nor particularly religious.
She is a generation of Cuban exile that is ready to look ahead. The school
principal is already thinking about how she can volunteer in Cuba, maybe
help straighten out her mom’s old school. The teachers there were intrigued
by her old snapshots. “Even seeing the photos helps open things up a little,”
she says. But first she must open up a dialogue with her mother.