‘‘Revolution of Tenderness’’

Despite its improving relations with Havana, Washington’s ultimate goal for the island remains regime change. And in this political game religion is going to play an important role. So Pope came to Cuba with a clear-cut message for ‘New Cuba’. The 1959 Cuban Revolution overthrew the dictatorial government of Batista and an atheist communist government of Castro sought to replace the Church as people’s guiding force. In the third week of September 2015, rounding off a trip to Cuba, Pope Francis called on Cubans to rediscover their Catholic heritage and live a ‘‘Revolution of Tenderness’’. The Pope spoke at mass at Cuba’s holiest shrine, in the sanctuary of the Vergin of Charity of El Cobre, with President Raul Castro attending. He urged thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology. Some 10% of Cubans regularly celebrate mass. The Church has been trying to seize on the softening of the Cuban system under Raul Castro, to rekindle Cuba’s religious heritage.

Like any country, Cuba has its problems. But the United States suffers from extreme social and political ills that are alien to revolutionary Cuba, including an epidemic of police brutality and racist extrajudicial killings; exorbitant incarceration and capital punishment rates, especially for people of colour, a lack of universal healthcare and pre-K-to-university education, which is completely unwarranted given the country's wealth; an insensitivity to urban displacement and unemployment rates; militarily aggressive foreign policies; and hyper-deference to the interest of corporations—as seen now in the last tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The United States could learn a lot from Cuba when it comes to disaster relief, education, and healthcare. More pointedly, Cuba projects a foreign policy of international solidarity around the world. As the US supplies troops seen as military occupiers, Cuba sends—often to the same places the US militarises—doctors and teachers who provide crucial assistance, free of charge, to the countries they're in service of. Cuba does this with no strings attached, unlike the aid packages provided by US-led international institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and even the United Nations.

In truth many of the moves the Obama administration has made in terms of its Cuba policy are in lockstep with Bill Clinton's, as expressed in the recommendations of a 1999 task force report from the Council on Foreign Relations. The report asserted that "no change in policy should have the primary effect of consolidating, or appearing to legitimize, the political status quo on the island." While the Obama administration insists that it's just changing a policy that was "not working," it remains an essentially disrespectful position against Cuba.

Better relations between Washington and Havana are a good thing, but they have to come from a place of respect. Both the Cuban and the American people have to see past the hypocritical rhetoric of the US government to realistically determine their best interests in this new and unprecedented rapprochement. It remains to be seen how Pope's call for "Revolution of Tenderness" is going to change the existing Cuban reality.

Vol. 48, No. 26, Jan 3 - 9, 2016