The Pope’s Visit – From the Cuban Worker Perspective

[Ernesto – Age – Early 20’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence – Havana, Cuba; Lives with Mother and Extended Family; Occupation – Educated in Business and Finance, Works in Hotel Operations for Government Owned Hotel; Fiancé of Marisa]

[This was transmitted orally as I sat on El Prado]

Franklin, you ask how it was having the Pope here in Cuba. Well, as I told you in the weeks before his arrival, it’s been worse than usual.

First, the Internet was blocked. So I was unable to communicate with anybody, particularly with friends and family outside of Cuba.

Then, last Tuesday, in my work (a government job as you know, like almost all jobs in Cuba), the superiors sent around a list and told us to sign it, in order to give our commitment that we would go to see the Pope. It was presented as though we must attend.

I protested, saying, “It is a spiritual issue, and I will decide on my own whether to go. It’s a private decision.”

My supervisor said, “It’s not a spiritual decision. It is not a private decision. You must attend.”

I came to understand that the government was afraid the audience would be too small, so they were forcing us to attend. The government was afraid the Cuban-Americans would convince their families in Cuba not to attend, in order to protest the conditions. Then the Cuban-Americans would point to the sparse crowd and criticize the government. The government wanted it to appear that the Cuban people had religious freedom and could freely and happily attend a public mass.

In order to force people to attend, government employers stated that the day the Pope was to speak was going to be a paid holiday. But it was only paid for workers who committed to attend. Otherwise it was unpaid.

As you know, we make about thirty dollars a month, so not being paid for a day is significant. Sixty cents might not sound like much to you, but it’s a lot to us. So many workers attended, because they felt forced. Soldiers also were forced to attend, but were instructed not to wear uniforms. Students also were coerced in different ways to attend.

So I was in the crowd, unhappily, not wanting to participate, trying not to look angry.

I was standing near the man who yelled out, “Down with Communism.” A man grabbed his shirt and pulled him away. Others joined. Because police and soldiers were not in uniform, it was impossible to know who was dragging the man away. And it was likely that he did not even know he was under arrest. Of course, that’s not uncommon in Cuba. I saw people in the crowd punching and swinging at him, and at his captors, and it was clear that like a typical mob scene, nobody knew what had happened and who was in the “wrong”, and who was in the “right”, if anybody was either.

The man in the hat is the one who spoke out. The two men in white shirts start removing him.

The man has lost his hat. He's ducking from people in the crowd, who are striking at him.

The man has been struck by a stranger in the crowd. One of his captors tries to protect him.

I suffered through the episode, and got my sixty cents, wondering what the Pope and his entourage thought of our country and our people.

These photos were taken from a video we posted a link to in the previous post:

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