A Castro Christmas
Last week while speaking to Parliament in Havana, President Fidel Castro announced a magnanimous and unprecedented concession. He proclaimed that December 25 could be considered a holiday this year as a gesture toward the Pope and Christians. Ostensibly, Castro was referring to Pope John Pauls visit to Cuba in January.
Castro did away with Christmas in 1969. He justified this Scrooge-like edict with the excuse that Cubans must not lose a day of work during the sugarcane harvest. However, the Cuban people have never even minimally accepted this canard. They have discretely continued to honor the tradition of Christmas in the confines of their homes. The few who have chosen to be open in the practice of their Christian faith attend church services and accept the consequences. The unfortunate individuals who remain trapped in Castros communist dictatorship are now rejoicing at the chance to observe Christmas as an official holiday. In Florida, members of the Cuban community who managed to escape to the United States are taking full advantage of Castros announcement. They are sending packages stuffed with food, medicine, clothes, toys and other items that are difficult to find in the spartan economic climate that has dominated their homeland since it fell under the spell of communism.
For twenty-eight long years, Castro has been consistent in his public disdain and treatment of Christians. His actions have been in accordance with his communist beliefs. The only deity of significance to Castro and those of his ilk is the state and in this case the head of state, Castro himself.
Castro was the one who extended an invitation to visit his country to Pope John Paul. Why would a fierce despot undergo an apparent conversion and display such graciousness? With the obligatory amount of regret, Castro publicly expressed that Cuba is the only remaining Latin American country that has not received a papal visit. But for those familiar with his manipulative tactics, this explanation rings all too hollow.
After all, Fidels success as a tyrant has been due, in part, to the fact that he never embarks on a course of action unless it somehow promotes the perpetuation of his sole authority and control. In the light of his recent campaign to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba, the invitation to the Pope and the one-time celebration of Christmas are both highly suspect. One could safely assume that these maneuverings are tied to Fidels long range plans for relief from the U.S. imposed thirty-five year old embargo and the desire to be accepted into the world community.
This international photo-op provides Castro with an opportunity to present to the world a kinder and gentler version of Cuban leadership. Notwithstanding, his rhetoric has always been hostile towards religion. He makes it clear to the Cuban people that privilege will not be granted to individuals who attend churches or observe religious holidays. Those who feel compelled to honor their faith and choose an overtly religious lifestyle understand that they will never have access to better homes, schools or employment.
Despite his utterances, even the current attempt to fool the world is done in a halfhearted manner. Why should Christmas be a one-time occurrence? Is it implicit in the message that the enslaved people of Cuba will be granted some limited freedoms if the world gives Castro what he desires?
The sad reality on which the world must focus is that after the Pope departs, the people of Cuba will awaken to the familiar, antagonistic, anti-God atmosphere in their country and the knowledge that Christmas may never come again.