Roman Catholic magazine in Cuba might soften its political side
Franklin Reyes/Associated Press
Posted: Saturday, July 12, 2014 11:28 am
Associated Press |
HAVANA — Launched as a bulletin for Catholic lay people, Espacio Laical
magazine became an unusually open and critical forum for debate in Cuba,
a rarity in a country where the state has controlled all media for five
Now, the sudden departure of its two longtime editors may have
endangered that status just as Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church and the
Communist-run country embark on major changes.
First published in 2005, Espacio Laical’s reflections on faith and daily
life were augmented by articles about politics, economics and society.
The magazine became a must-read for members of Cuba’s academic and
intellectual elite — some of them the very architects of President Raul
Castro’s ongoing reforms, such as allowing limited private enterprise
and decentralizing state-run businesses.
Espacio Laical “gave room to opinions from different points of view,”
said Cuban analyst and former diplomat Carlos Alzugaray, who has worked
with the magazine. “It is something that is very needed today in Cuba,
which is a public space for debate about the nation’s problems.”
But editors Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez resigned in early May,
later confirming they quit because the magazine’s content was
controversial in the ecclesiastical community. The magazine’s director,
Gustavo Andujar, said the editors left voluntarily.
Published four times a year with a press run of just 4,500, Espacio
Laical also has a website that is likely seen by few in a country where
Internet access is difficult and costly. Its footprint is much smaller
than a publications like the Communist Party newspaper Granma, published
daily and distributed to the masses across the island.
But its audience was influential, and its articles provoked debate.
In July 2013, Espacio Laical published a supplement titled “Cuba
Dreamed, Cuba Possible, Cuba Future,” outlining what the country should
aspire to, including freedom of expression, political association and
private economic rights.
University of Havana religious historian Enrique Lopez Oliva said that
surely set off alarms both within the Catholic community, which is
divided over how much the church should involve itself in politics, and
for government and party officials, who say Raul Castro’s reforms do not
contemplate change to Cuba’s single-party system.
“These points constitute a platform for a political movement,” Lopez
Oliva said. “They must have caused a certain amount of concern.”
After the reforms began in earnest in 2010, Espacio Laical published
analyses by economists such as Omar Everleny Perez and Pavel Vidal, who
are associated with the government but have been relatively outspoken in
criticizing its programs. In one piece, they said there were not enough
approved free-market activities for half a million laid-off state
workers, and not enough white collar jobs for an educated population.
Other contributing writers have included academics, energy experts and
sociologists both inside and outside of Cuba. Espacio Laical also
organized gatherings with diverse participants including prominent Cuban
exile businessman Carlos Saladriegas.
Andujar told The Associated Press in an email interview that some
aspects of Espacio Laical won’t change. But he also acknowledged there
will be more emphasis on topics like the arts, sciences and religious
ethics, rather than an overwhelming focus on economics and politics.
“It is not desirable that other, very broad and important aspects of the
cultural life of the country and the world find comparatively little
space,” he said.
The changes at the magazine come as the church gets ready for a major
transition. Cardinal Jaime Ortega submitted his resignation in 2011 as
bishops customarily do upon turning 75. The Vatican has not yet accepted
it, but Ortega is widely assumed to be leaving soon.
Relations were hostile between the Catholic Church and the officially
atheist state for decades after Cuba’s 1959 revolution. It was Ortega
that negotiated better ties, beginning the 1990s as Cuba removed
references to atheism in the constitution and Pope John Paul II visited
Ortega’s successor will be named by Pope Francis, a Jesuit seen as a
reformer keen on social issues. Whoever takes his place as head of the
Havana Archdiocese will have to chart his own course between emphasizing
spiritual work and political involvement.
Catholic authorities want further concessions such as more access to
radio and TV airwaves, the return of more church property and permission
to begin some kind of religious education — causes that could be helped
by not antagonizing the government.
The changes at the magazine, Lopez Oliva said, “could be a shift toward
being more cautious in the political arena.”
Gonzalez said neither he nor Veiga would comment on Espacio Laical
beyond their initial statement. But in a hint of their post-magazine
plans, he said Monday in a follow-up email to the AP that they are
launching a project called “Cuba Possible” — a clear echo of the
controversial 2013 supplement’s title.
Gonzalez did not say whether it will be a new publication, entail more
seminars or even be affiliated with the church.
It involves a “platform that allows for the airing and channeling of
concerns and proposals from Cubans and foreigners that keep communion
with those principles,” he wrote. “We hope that participants …
interact with Cuban civil society, diaspora groups and other entities
abroad, always through open and pluralistic dialogue that seeks consensus.”
Source: Roman Catholic magazine in Cuba might soften its political side
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