Pope Condemns Economic Embargo

By Carter, Tom | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

Pope Condemns Economic Embargo


Carter, Tom, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


HAVANA - Pope John Paul II wound up his five-day visit to Cuba yesterday with a tough condemnation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist island, saying the poor suffered the most under Cuba's isolation.

"The . . . imposed isolation strikes the people indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living, things such as food, health and education," the pope said in his airport departure speech.

During his historic visit, the pope mixed criticism of Cuba's Communist government with attacks on the embargo, which President Fidel Castro blames for much of the island's economic problems. The airport speech was his third such attack and the strongest so far.

Mr. Castro, in a farewell speech, again lashed out at the 35-year-old embargo as persecution akin to that faced by the Christians in ancient Rome and the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

"Very often in history, slanders have been used to justify the worst crime against the peoples. . . . No one ever had the right to exterminate others for being Christians, Jews or Communists," he said, before bidding the pope farewell.

Earlier, at an enormous Mass in central Havana, the pope spoke out for individual freedom and human rights and urged the government to stop trying to control every aspect of people's lives.

Speaking beneath the scowling visage of Che Guevera in Revolutionary Square - the same place President Fidel Castro grew famous for his long-winded orations - John Paul set out to redefine Cuba's revolution.

"Liberation cannot be reduced to its social and political aspects, but rather reaches its fullness in the exercise of freedom of conscience, the basis and foundation of all other human rights," the pope told the crowd, the largest in four days of outdoor Masses across the island.

Mr. Castro turned out in person for the Mass, which was attended by more than 200,000 people by some estimates.

In another passage, the pope said: "A modern state cannot make atheism or religion one of its ordinances."

But as he has in all his speeches, the pontiff was careful to reassure the hard-liners in the Castro government that the church's mission was not aimed at usurping political power.

"In absolutely no way is this an ideology or a new economic or political system; rather it is the path of authentic peace, justice and freedom," he said.

Three witnesses told Reuters news agency that a woman at the front of the Mass tried to raise a banner reading "Down with the dictatorship" during the pope's homily. She was quickly whisked away by men in plain clothes before she could attract attention, the witnesses said.

While the pope's other sermons were preached in the searing Caribbean sun, yesterday was overcast, cool and breezy. Several people had to be taken away on stretchers, but an aide at the Red Cross tent said they were overcome with emotion rather than heat prostration.

"I never thought that in this place I would see the pope," said Estillita Morera, a housewife from the Lawton neighborhood of Havana, who arrived at Revolutionary Square with her family about three hours before the Mass. …

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