As the papal visit drew to a close yesterday, the whole event seemed to have crystallized for the free world the brutal horror that 39 years of Castro's "revolution" has wrought on the Cuban people. This is an island that has been impoverished economically, physically and spiritually.
While the pope traveled the country, so too did 4,000 journalists putting a human face on the realities of totalitarianism. The media may have given Fidel celebrity treatment during past visits to the U.N., but newspapers this week filled with stories of struggling, starving, lonely people driven to despair at the hands of the Cuban state. Miami has been on an emotional roller coaster with even self-described hard-liners on Miami talk radio wondering what they could do to help.
Fidel might have hoped that the Pontiff would lash out, and yes the embargo was criticized. But as in Poland and Russia before, John Paul's critique of the Cuban system was devastating. The Cuban people may have been unfamiliar with the particulars of the Mass, but when the Pope called for freedom of expression, association and initiative, his crowds burst into applause, despite the certain presence of Castro's infamous security forces.
The connection he made between the totalitarian state and the dissolution of families resonated with Cubans. The economic situation, he explained, has "obliged people to be away from their families within the country and emigration...has torn apart whole families and caused suffering for a large part of the population." He called the island's high rate of abortion "a senseless impoverishment of the person and society itself."
One of his most pointed criticisms was of the state education system which takes pre-teens away from their families and ships them to "boarding schools" on the island, making family contact nearly impossible. He admonished the Cuban government for substituting itself for these children's parents. And he delivered to the regime a list of prisoners on whose behalf he asked for clemency.
More than three years ago in these columns, we called for ending the economic embargo against Cuba. After the events of the past week, we see no reason to alter our position, or the reasons for it. We wrote then: "With all due recognition of the very deep dilemmas policy-makers face, this policy does not seem sustainable either practically or morally."
Castro's repeated argument that the embargo itself is the cause of his island's impoverishment has been exposed this week as a lie. Pointedly, John Paul II made it clear that Cuba's revival most certainly has to do with more than the material life alone. Castro's ruination of families and the pride and dignity of his people is the dictator's own doing, a culpability shared as well by his brother Raul, who presumes himself the inheritor of this shameful debacle.
The Pope, with his presence and words, has pointed to a post-embargo policy toward Cuba. The goal is to help the 11 million Cubans who otherwise continue a life of desperation. The goal is to recognize that the architect of this ruination is a pariah, and those Western interests who enrich the government kleptocracy at the expense of Cuban entrepreneurs deserve to be denounced. Pope John Paul placed Cuba before the world's eyes in proper perspective this week. Those truths should not be forgotten as Cuba's people are finally brought into the world.