The Battle for Cuba’s Soul
The article I chose, “The Battle for Cuba’s Soul, (Papal visit to Cuba)”,
appeared in Newsweek magazine on January 19, 1998. The article
discussed Cuba’s position on religious activity and the constraints
Castro has placed on Cuba’s religious society. It stated the notions of
change that both the Pope and Castro hope to install. The article also
stated that the Pope looked to install christian faith and individuality in
a country that has had its religious freedom oppressed for so long. He
looks at the Catholic church as a tool to facilitate the seeds of
democracy, however, Castro hopes to prevent this. Castro looks to the
world for approval now that the Pope will finally arrive. He sees this as
a chance to gain international regard.
The reason that I chose this article was because I am religious and
am of the Catholic faith. I feel that the presence of religion in my life
has been the fundamental ground on which I form my values and
beliefs. It is difficult for me to imagine a life without religion. I am
inquisitive as to how the Cuban society fills the religious void in their
lives. When asked what effects the Revolution had on spiritual beliefs in
Cuba, Fidel Castro stated:
Those who don’t understand that morale is a fundamental
factor in revolution are lost, defeated. Values and morale are a man’s
spiritual weapons. As you know, regardless of his beliefs, we don’t
inspire a revolutionary fighter with the idea that he’ll be rewarded in
the next world or will be eternally happy if he dies. Those men were
ready to die - even those who were non-believers - because there were
values for which they believed it was worth giving their lives, even
though their lives were all they had. (Simon and Schuster, 192-
After reading this quote, I realized that religion is more than just
attending church, saying prayers and claming a faith in the unknown.
For Castro, spirituality were the tools of his Revolution, not spirituality
in a god or any deity for that matter. What he was speaking of was
spirituality and belief in Cuba and ultimately, the communist regime. It
is here, in the midst of the Cuban Revolution, that Castro began forming
the atheist views of his country.
In providing background information, I chose to look at the
presence of religion in other Latin American countries. First, take for
example the Mapuche Indians of Chile, and their belief in several gods,
ancestral spirits, and the afterworld. Their three primary gods are the
creator of the earth, creator of people, and ruler of people. Every thing
in Mapuche society is said to have a spirit, therefore is controlled by a
deity (Faron 66). The Mapuche pray to their gods for abundance in
agriculture, animals, and good health. They also believe that their
ancestors walk the earth with the company of the gods (Faron 67).
Obviously, the daily life of the Mapuche society involves their deities.
Spirit is all around them, enriching every aspect of their lives. Religion is
an important part of the Mapuche being and is believed to carry them
into an afterworld of rest.
The second culture I looked at was the Guatemalan town of
Zaragoza. The Catholic faith discussed in the book, To the Mountain
and Back, was again a intricate part of the village’s life. There kinship
was expressed in ceremonies such as baptism, by asking a member of
the higher social status to serve as co-parents for their children
(Glittenberg 91). This strengthened relationships throughout the village.
Also, the village participated in Sunday mass, and some shared meals
after the service (Glittenberg 92). The Catholic religion served as a
common ground for this society. While there was some tension outside
the village with other denominations, Catholicism was the religion of
choice in Zaragoza. It provides a strong faith for these people.
Now, as I look to Cuban society, I find that there is a faith. I think
that Fidel Castro puts it well here in this statement:
Since then, in my revolutionary life - even though, as I told you, I
never really acquired religious faith - all my efforts, my attention and
my life were devoted to the development of a political faith, which I
reached through my own convictions. I couldn’t really develop a
religious concept on my own, but I did develop political and
revolutionary convictions in that way... (Simon and Schuster 268).
Here, Castro speaks of his own personal life dealing with religion, and
his views are apparent. These views are also apparent in the
Communist party within Cuba. Faith in government, communism and
Castro. There is some aspects of religion in Cuba such as santeria, a
religion with dominant African roots, Protestantism as well as
Catholicism. However, the Catholic church has been oppressed since
the Revolution. Catholics are not allowed to belong to the Communist
party. They are not allowed to practice openly, such as mass and
holidays. This past December, Castro stated that Christmas would be
allowed to be celebrated, however, only in the year 1997. Basically,
what religion allows, especially the Catholic religion, is freedom of
thought. It is powerful and provides people with prospect. Communism
promotes prospect in government. In order for Cubans to give
everything to the state, devout religion is impossible.
As I have pointed out in looking at the other cultures, religion is
important in daily life and ultimately, a spirited existence. The cultural
impact of religion is extremely significant.
The Pope’s visit to Cuba was a monumental event in Cuban society.
It gave people hope which rarely exists in Cuba. It allowed people to
have allegiance to something other than government. The visit
demonstrated that the strictness of the communist regime could
become lessened to allow religious freedom of some kind. The Pope
raised questions of spiritual existence in Cuba. Castro performed an
“act of faith” by allowing the Pope to visit Cuba, and however political it
may have been, it impacted his people’s lives. The Pope’s message of
Christianity spread like fire in the soul’s of the Cubans. As one Cuban
woman stated, “The Pope’s message motivated me, I’ll do whatever it
takes to go see him. I now believe in Christ and Fidel.” (Larmer 1). Is
this possible, can Cubans have faith in their atheist leader and the word
of the Lord?