Catholic Dissident Leader in Cuba: Under Current Totalitarian Regime, ‘It Is Impossible to Prosper’
The Register spoke with Eduardo Cardet, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba, amidst ongoing calls for freedom and regime change on the communist-controlled island.
Last week, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in protest. The unprecedented crowds called for food and medicine, which have been hard to come by on the economically crippled island. But they also called for something more profound: freedom and liberty, human needs that have been in short-supply in Cuba during the 62-year rule of a communist regime.
Inspired by the Gospel’s call for human freedom in all areas of life, Movimiento Cristiano Liberacion (MCL), known in English as the Christian Liberation Movement, has called for political reform for decades often in the face of violent responses from the Cuban government. The Register reached MCL’s current leader, Dr. Eduardo Cardet, July 16 at his home via text messages. The text message exchange, originally in the Spanish language, has been translated here.
There are reports that you are effectively under house arrest. What’s your current status?
I am not under house arrest, but under close surveillance. They are monitoring us. We can move somewhat freely within the town where I live, Velasco, but we are prevented from going to other cities or parts of the country.
Reports coming out of the island seem incomplete. What would you want an audience in America to know about what’s actually taking place in terms of the demonstrations and the government response?
The dictatorship keeps the internet and social networks blocked to prevent Cubans from communicating with each other and spreading images and news about what is currently happening on the island. Nevertheless, the peaceful demonstrations in our town and in multiple cities throughout Cuba have been an authentic and civil manifestation of our people demanding freedom, demanding radical changes that allow us to live with quality.
The regime’s response has been excessive repression, lethal use of force that has caused many victims, including deaths and injuries. Unfortunately, the one who occupies the presidential office, our country’s “dictator on duty,” Miguel Díaz Canel, gave the direct order for confrontation, for the blood to flow, for those who supposedly identify with the revolution as well as the repressive forces of the regime to attack unarmed civilians with total impunity. These civilians were peacefully demonstrating, making use of a legitimate right.
Currently, repressive government forces are carrying out a massive wave of arrests across the country. They are allegedly detaining and transferring to prisons those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations, especially young people. Statements from government officials indicate the possibility of swift trials and prison sentences of up to 20 years.
Many people inside and outside the island who are either part of the regime or want to defend it at all costs sell the false idea that the protests of the Cuban people are due to the painful situation caused by external factors such as what they wrongly call the North American embargo, the situation of COVID and others. The cause of the deep systemic and structural crisis that we Cubans suffer is a failed regime; it is the dictatorship that oppresses us, which violates our rights, takes away our freedoms, and makes it impossible for us to build a present and future of splendor.
The regime is hastily promoting the idea that they are taking corrective measures, but these will have little impact. For example, they have allegedly eliminated the restrictions that the government in customs had on the importation of food, medicine, and cleaning products. Instead, this proves that they are the ones who are blocking the Cuban people. Cuban people do not need useless measures; we need changes, profound transformations, so we can enjoy freedom and our rights, and can choose our present and our future.
What is MCL’s role in what's unfolding? How do you see your organization’s work explicitly connected to the Gospel and Church teaching?
Movimiento Cristiano Liberacion (MCL) is not a confessional organization, but its principles are based on the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and the liberating message of the Gospel. The MCL, as an inescapable part of the Cuban people, has been working peacefully and with charity for the necessary changes on our island since its foundation at a parish in Havana in 1987. Citizen mobilization is the cornerstone of our work, aimed at the promotion of rights and the rise of love, truth, and justice for all. We have always opposed the use of violence as a means of solving internal conflicts.
We have seen with great pride that an essential majority of our people have become aware of the need for urgent changes: The recovery of the popular sovereignty of fundamental freedoms to build a free and prosperous nation. That is why MCL will continue working, supporting, and encouraging peaceful changes. We fully identify ourselves with all those who have used the legitimate right of peaceful demonstration and have expressed their will for change and the need for freedom. We will continue to denounce the abusive use of force by the totalitarian regime; we will continue to demand the immediate release of all those detained for having demonstrated demanding justice, rights, freedom.
We will always accompany our people because we are part of it, and we aspire to build a better nation for all.
There is a dramatic shortage of food and adequate medical care in Cuba right now. As an organization inspired by the Gospel, why not just ask for these material needs to be met? Why the call for deeper political change?
The Cuban people have been suffering under this totalitarian regime — which has cut off all fundamental freedoms and rights — for 62 years. This tyranny prevents us from full development. It is the direct cause of most if not all the miseries that we suffer on our island. With cries of “freedom,” these massive, peaceful demonstrations have corrected the misperception that Cuban people did not want profound and radical changes. The Cuban people have made it very clear what they want and need, total freedom and full rights. To be free, to be masters of our life, to be able to develop ourselves fully, and enjoy a dignified life, including not only material but also spiritual prosperity.
During these 62 years, the Havana regime has had more than enough opportunities and material resources to satisfy the people’s minimum needs; however, it has not done so because intrinsically, these totalitarian regimes carry the chains that prevent the peoples from fully developing. Unfortunately, the people who hold power are hateful individuals. All they do is instigate hatred between brothers and call for bloodshed. With people like this in power, it is impossible to advance; it is impossible to build a nation that is useful for everyone.
Some suggest that the Communist government has walked back some of its more authoritarian tendencies in recent decades. For instance, the government seems more tolerant of religious expressions and has even televised Mass on state TV. The implication is that if the government isn’t being as harsh, there’s no need for systemic change. What do you make of this?
Many want to sell and others want to buy the false idea that the Havana regime has implemented a series of transformations that soften its fossilized and oppressive structure of yesteryear. Nothing is more false than these claims. Nothing has changed; everything remains the same or worse, with more material misery, more oppression.
The Communist Party is the tool that the tyranny has to extend its oppressive arm in society. It is a “political force,” if an organization that behaves like a mafia controlling all the nation’s resources and all the institutions to impose its will, can be called a “political force.” With this straitjacket on our nation and its resources, it is impossible to prosper. The people of Cuba have understood that the only way to achieve spiritual and human material prosperity is freedom, a democracy in which everyone can express themselves freely and exercise rights fully without being repressed or persecuted. That is what we want, and that is what we Cubans need: it is not medicine, it is not food, it is not something material. What we need is the most valuable, the most sacred: authentic human freedom.
What needs to happen to make the present movement for liberty more fruitful than, say, the mass demonstrations of Venezuela in 2019?
I believe that we cannot establish a parallel between the realities of the Venezuelan people and the realities of the Cuban people. Although there are some similarities, there is a vast difference. We are suffering a long tyranny for more than 62 years, absolutely totalitarian, that controls all the institutions of society; we face strict police and military control of the country. There are no political opposition parties. There are no independent organizations that can function legally, which in some way could organize broad opposition to the regime.
Contrary to popular reports, I don’t see the demonstrations that have taken place this past week as “spontaneous.” Rather, they’re a response to a pressure gradient that has reached a climax, a point of high tension. A unanimous clamor of thousands of Cubans has emerged in many cities and towns throughout the country, where people marching in the streets have fully agreed on a specific demand: freedom. This call has not come overnight. The people of Cuba have needed time to come to this deep rejection of the regime, and to identify the root of the problem: the lack of freedom and rights.
It is a phenomenon that is going to grow. It will gain adherents and, as a consequence, bring about a profound radical and irreversible change in our country.
What have you made of the response from the Catholic Church to the current demonstrations and government response? Both from the bishops of Cuba, and also the Church more broadly. What do the people need to hear from the Church?
As an institution in recent years, the Catholic Church has had a weak response on many occasions to the severe threats that our people face. The Vatican’s response to the reality of the Cuban people has been feeble. It’s been an evasive, distant, cold response. There has been no clear support [from the Vatican] for the legitimate demands that we have been making for so long that we have suffered hardships and lack of rights. There has never been a condemnation of these human rights violations. Instead, they are seen with approval and sometimes even with some complicity.
Pope Francis has shown clear signs of sympathizing with the ideas of the left. He has demonstrated an exaggerated empathy for the point of view of many liberticides and dictators: Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Evo Morales. He has even declared himself very favorable to the ideals of the left.
The Church hierarchy’s response has been very regrettable because we have always considered that the fundamental role of the Catholic Church is to identify with the pain of others, regardless of race, religion, or economic reality. The Church should identify with the one who suffers, with the one who is beaten, persecuted, and in need. That is the message of the Gospel. The Church needs to let go of political alignments and other shady interests, and identify totally with human needs, fighting for the well-being of man no matter where he is.
Thankfully, there are a vast number of priests and pastors, who are accompanying, their parishioners, the people of Cuba. Some have even been repressed or even assaulted for assisting our people in peaceful marches. This is the case of Father Castor Alvarez, who was beaten and detained for more than a day after participating in the marches in the city of Camagüey. That fills us with pride and transmits a message of strength and hope.
Some have suggested the U.S. needs to intervene in Cuban affairs to ensure that demonstrations are protected and can exercise basic human rights. But others have warned that this would play into the hands of the communist regime, which always warns of ‘Yankee imperialists,’ and might undermine the integrity of the demonstrations. What do you and the Cuban people ask from the U.S.?
The Cuban people have been demonstrating since July 11 in a free and sovereign manner. They do not respond to the interests of any foreign power. They demand freedom and rights, not communism.
I believe that the United States government must be consistent with the democratic principles that it represents and defends. It should demand the cessation of violence, the bloodshed caused by the Cuban regime against defenseless, unarmed people. The U.S. government must support — with energy, with concrete facts — this desire for freedom of the Cuban people without being limited to timid and distant statements about what is happening.
Outstanding support is needed for an energetic action favoring freedom. It’s now or never. For this reason, any words must be translated into concrete actions that can tip the balance in favor of the Cuban people and stop this ruthless, repressive escalation of the regime against Cubans.
American Catholics are watching the island with great concern and care. How can we pray for you? What actions can we take?
I believe that American Catholics must amplify the voice of the Cuban people. They must ask to demand the cessation of repression against our people. They must demand the cessation of violence by the regime's repressive forces against the unarmed Cuban people. The tyranny, the bloodshed, the confrontation between brothers must end.
The American Catholic community must be well informed of what is happening in Cuba, first-hand, with truthful information about the events that have been taking place since July 11, and of the magnitude of the demonstrations of the Cuban people who are demanding and claiming freedom, rights.
These are crucial moments. The people of Cuba need the accompaniment of all men and women of goodwill, who want freedom, rights, justice, and prosperity for our people. And we need you to be ready, when conditions allow it, to help the Cuban people in a concrete way in their legitimate yearnings for progress and justice.