The Pope in Havana – Is Cuban Life Improved?

It’s been an interesting period, preparing for the Pope’s arrival, and what really happened once he arrived. I tried to grasp it all from here in Havana, and to make sense of it. These are my impressions.


The Cuban regime became more paranoid than usual, arrested more people than usual, discouraged discourse, and tried to put fear into everybody.

The Pope didn’t say anything about any agenda he might have to listen to dissidents or relay any thoughts.

Dissidents tried to get their message out, hoping the Pope would listen and help get the government to end the oppression.

Chavez came for more chemo, and Venezuelans and Cubans wondered whether he was coming now to try to get an audience with the Pope.

As the Pope left Mexico to come here, we heard that his visit there was widely celebrated.

Visit – Santiago

Once the Pope arrived in Santiago, the excitement continued. Arrests continued. Dissidents continued trying to get the word out, waiting for his visit to Havana.

Visit - Havana

The Pope arrived. I walked around, asking people on the street what they thought. Some shrugged. Some put their hands together as though praying and looked skyward. Some shifted their eyes, and drifted away from me. As usual, I had difficulty learning how the people in general felt. Maybe because not everybody feels the same, and many on both sides, as usual, are afraid to express their feelings.

Here in Havana, nobody knows about the Pope visiting with Raul, unless they have Internet, or are active in the dissident community. I know what was reported in international news, because I sneak to a hotel every day and jump on the Internet.

Cubans have reported huge internet and phone outages. One friend told me that this was the first month he still had computer time at the end of the month, because the government shut his access off. He said it was definitely because of the Pope’s visit.

The Pope “gently” prodded Raul about changes in the government. As always, Raul would not refer to the changes as movement towards capitalism. The Pope was vague. Raul vaguely denied.

Then the question again became will the Pope meet with Fidel? Will Chavez manage to squeeze himself in?

The Pope did meet with Fidel. The Pope more boldly stated that personal freedoms were not being honored. Fidel did not wish to discuss it.

People who work in government jobs were asked to sign a sheet saying if they intended to go to the Pope’s talk or not. They didn’t know whether their “employer” wanted to know if they had religion, would be a supporter of the government in the audience, or would be a protester in the audience. People were afraid to answer. They were afraid to attend, even if they wanted to.

A brave – or stupid – or celebrity seeking young man named Andres Carrion Alvarez yelled out “Down with Communism” and was promptly arrested. Watch the crowd react against him and / or against the arresters.

And now, it’s over. See the following quote from Monsters and Critics.

“Pope leaves Cuba with call for "fraternal society"

“Havana/London - Pope Benedict XVI left Cuba Wednesday with a call for 'a fraternal society in which no one feels excluded' and a critical position against the US embargo on the communist island.

'I now conclude my pilgrimage, but I will continue praying fervently that you will go forward and that Cuba will be the home of all and for all Cubans, where justice and freedom coexist in a climate of serene fraternity,' he said at Havana airport. Earlier, the London-based Amnesty International had urged the pope to 'take a stand' on the clampdown against activists to 'silence them' during the papal visit, which culminated Wednesday with an open-air mass attended by thousands at Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion.

'In view of this situation, which contradicts his appeal for a 'more open society' in Cuba, the Pope should take a stand and lend his voice to those that have been left voiceless due to the ongoing repression and condemn the lack of freedoms in Cuba,' Javier Zuniga, a special advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement.”

See also

Now the dissidents are saying nothing is changed. They are just discovering who was arrested. Just like before, they are worried about people, wondering about people, wondering whether anything has changed or will change, and knowing it will not.

March 21, 2012 Off El Prado – A Bit More Decrepit

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Currently in Havana; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

Below is a map of Havana, El Prado. El Prado is also known as El Paseo de Martí. It runs parallel to the channel, which is to the right. The water in the photo is the sea. El Prado has a wide center walking area between the two parts of the street, closer to the water. Then it becomes a wider street without a median as it continues inland, near the Capitólio.

You can see the large block where El Capitólio (“National Capitol Building”) is in the middle towards the bottom. The street behind it (to the west) is Industria. That’s the street where I walked as I took most of these photos, walking northward towards the Malecón and the sea.

March 17, 2012 – The Not So Pretty Buildings on El Prado.

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

If you are paying attention to dates, ignore them. I have had some difficulty posting to the blog. But all the upcoming photos were taken during my February, 2012 visit. I took well over 1,000, so it takes a while to organize and explain.

Like much of Havana, El Prado boasts beautifully renovated buildings, for the tourists, alongside those that are falling apart. Some may look abandoned, but actually are occupied residences. I was invited into a residence for coffee, and I have some amazing photos of the interior, for another day.

But these are some paradoxical photos along El Prado of the neglected merged with the pampered.

March 16, 2012 Cuban dissidents removed from church

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S. CURRENTLY IN HAVANA; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]
Reports have been printed this morning about the Cuban dissidents being removed from the Virgin of Charity Church where they had demanded an audience with the Pope when he comes to Cuba.

I have talked to several Cubans here in Havana over the last couple of days, asking what was going on. As usual, either nobody knew anything, or nobody wanted to say anything. I really think they did not know anything about it. I went to the house of some ladies I have met and had a coffee. These ladies have an illegally obtained satellite feed to their large color t.v., something way out of place in their tiny, decrepit apartment with a makeshift ceiling below the barbacoa (a separate floor halfway between the real ceiling and the floor). Although they were watching Miami news, it apparently hadn’t shown anything about this news either. They watch soap operas and local news from Miami. They asked me how it is that a rich country like the U.S. couldn’t protect people better from driving into canals. They said cars end up in canals and people drown all the time.

Anyway, I just came over to the Saratoga Hotel to jump on the wi-fi, and I learned the dissidents had been removed.
Following are some English news stories:

Yoani Sanchez has been in regular contact with the dissidents inside the church, and had been publishing their phone numbers. She says: “A note of the archdiocese says that #13Iglesia "were invited to leave" the Church, but their testimony says otherwise #PopeCuba”.

February 21 - El Prado – the People

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

El Prado is a great place to watch people. One sees young and old Cubans sitting, passing time, enjoying the outdoors on a sunny February day.

School children playing. Art in the park. Art classes for younsters.
Desolute people.

I’m walking towards a loud ruckus. I am not sure what it is. A concert? A demonstration? A dark-skinned, twenty-something year-old Cuba approaches and walks next to me, saying, “I can’t take it any more. These people demonstrating about this – those people anti-demonstrating about that. Who really cares? Nothing changes.”

I’m afraid to answer. I don’t know if he’s for real, or baiting me to criticize. I’m also trying to figure out what is ahead. Is it a demonstration? Am I going to get caught up in a “Ladies in White” demonstration and get my head bashed in, or get arrested. I’ve never heard of them doing anything on El Prado, but who knows. The man drifts away. I slow my steps, trying still to figure out what’s coming up. When I get there, I see it’s a group of young people dancing to music. No demonstration. No unhappiness. All good.

I stop and watch a teacher showing young children the tricks of painting.

I watch people waiting, and waiting, and waiting – to enter a pizza restaurant, to get a bus, to exchange money, to enter a store. Well, what does a Cuban have to do that’s urgent? Everything is slow. Who wants to go home, where there are few comforts, where a dinner consists of the same beans and rice that one eats every day. Wait, wait, wait. Maybe we can get some carne de res (beef) over on whatever street. Let’s go over there and wait. Maybe we can get some … whatever. Let’s go and see.