The Roman Catholic Church has won praise for securing the release of political prisoners in Cuba, raising hopes it can do more to broker reforms on the communist-ruled island and perhaps even help improve U.S.-Cuba ties.
Sidelined for decades by the communist authorities until Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998, the Church has now carved out a visible role as an interlocutor with the government, and as a possible catalyst of change. (Photo: Released prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya in a wheelchair at Santa Rita Church as he joins the weekly protest of the Ladies in White, a group made up of imprisoned family members, in Havana June 20, 2010./Desmond Boylan)
Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega raised his voice earlier this year, asking President Raul Castro to accelerate economic reforms and end government harassment of the dissident group Ladies in White during their peaceful street protests.
His main accomplishment was meeting Castro and obtaining an agreement in July to free 52 political prisoners, 32 of whom have already left jail and gone to Spain in a deal with the Spanish government.
Two recent trips by Ortega to Washington to meet officials of President Barack Obama’s administration also suggest that his role as a facilitator has gone beyond domestic matters. The church publicly denies it is serving as a mediator between the two countries, but Ortega has said clearly that resolving the conflict with the United States is crucial to “break the critical circle” in which Cuba finds itself.