ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento
Cuba and U.S-Vatican relations
One of the paradoxes of the US Empire is that while there has always been separation between church and state, at the same time religion and politics have always been indissolubly united. Anyone who doubts this has only to observe the pirouettes of republican presidential aspirants to gain the evangelical vote in the Bible belt or the Catholic vote of the Northeast without disturbing the fantasies of puritan Boston.
The domination of the WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) had as a result that for 117 years, from 1867 to 1984, there were no diplomatic relations between the US government and the Holy See.
It was the election to the papacy of a Polish bishop and his growing influence in Eastern Europe that allowed President Ronald Reagan to decide, in spite of strong internal opposition, to name an ambassador to the Vatican. Some have spoken of the formation of a Reagan-John Paul II alliance, but this was not the case. Rather there was a coincidence of objectives in the face of Soviet communism, but with very different motivations: geopolitical motivations in the first case; spiritual, or if one prefers, georeligious motivations in the second.
Surely it was hardly coincidental that Reagan had a number of Catholics in key positions of his administration: William Casey, Director of the CIA; Alexander Haig, Secretary of Defence; Richard Allen, Director of the Council of National Security; William Clark, head of his team of advisors, among others.
This coincidence of interests did not always result in a bed of roses. When, for example, General Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland (1981-1983) Pope John Paul II opposed economic sanctions on the part of the United States, arguing that they would only result in suffering on the part of the people.
The visit to Cuba of Pope John Paul II in January of 1998 greatly distressed the Clinton administration. In December of the same year, the principal figure of the Catholic Church in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, spent four days as a guest of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana and established contacts with the Cuban government. Later, with George W. Bush as president, when the scandal broke out involving sexual abuse of children by clerics, Cardinal Law, as the principal ecclesiastic in Boston, was the object of a ruthless attack in the press. Some Vatican authorities thought that the media campaign against Cardinal Law was overdone, and concluded that the Cardinal was paying a political price for his visit to Cuba and his opposition to the economic blockade of that country, acts that resulted in a visceral hatred among Cuban exiles in the United States. Law also had the Zionist lobby against him because of his defence of the Palestinian cause.
John Paul II was strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. He saw a great danger in the messianic ideas of Bush, his "conversations" with God and his decision to go to war with a celestial mandate, his unilateralism, his theories of preventive war and his authorization of torture.
In addition, the Pope feared the consequences of the war for minorities, especially the Christian minorities in the Middle East, and that the conflict would be considered as a new crusade in the Islamic world and might turn into a religious war.
The alliance of neoconservatives with evangelical denominations under the Bush administration gave rise to a doctrine that there existed not just a moral exigency to Christianize Islamic people but that it was also question of national security to do so and export to these regions of the world representative democracy and US customs and values.
The atmosphere of the crusade against the infidel was heavily influenced by a preoccupation with the demographic growth of Islam. From 200 million Muslims in 1900, they grew to 1188 million in 2005. At the present time there are 1620 million Muslims, 500 million more than when Bush, disguised as a pilot, announced "mission accomplished" from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.
Greater friction between the Vatican and the Bush administration were produced precisely in the sphere of international relations. The Holy See, and the rest of the world were astounded when, on January 11 2002, the first wave of prisoners were sent to the naval base of Guantánamo, a territory usurped by the United States from Cuba. Then there were the scandals of torture in Abu Ghraib, in Guantánamo itself, and in secret prisons scattered across half of the world. A greater breach was produced with the publication, in September of 2002, of the document on National Security Strategy, in which the US government revealed its proposal to employ unilateral military force, for prevention, against countries that the US considered its enemies.
The Bush government could hardly hide its frustration. From almost total support following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the year in which the Opus Dei opened their monumental fifteen-story building in New York, the Vatican had moved towards an ironclad opposition to the Imperial strategy. "I do not understand the position of the Vatican", declared Condoleezza Rice to the Italian journal Panorama.
The Pope undertook his final attempt to prevent war by sending Cardinal Pio Laghi with a personal message for the president. Condoleezza Rice received the papal envoy in a somewhat gross and cold manner, and Bush assured him that God had saved him from alcoholism and was his guide in initiating the conflict. Nothing could be done, it was all decided by a divine mandate, politically and militarily.
But the rejection of the US government of the diplomacy of the Catholic Church did not last. Within a few months, the disaster of the war, the lack of confidence on the part of their allies and the growing anti-American sentiment in the whole world, principally in the Muslim world, resulted in the Bush administration turning towards the Vatican as a means of breaking their isolation and to soften the fury of the Imans. After the audience of Vice-President Dick Cheney with Pope John Paul II led to nothing and was ignored in the Roman media, Bush himself visited the Pope on June 4, 2004. Condoleezza Rice, who travelled to Rome with Bush, did not accompany him to the Papal audience. The absence of Bush's chief political advisor was considered by many as an unprecedented gesture of arrogance on her part.
Originally, the Pope had refused to concede an audience requested by Bush. The ecclesiastical authorities told the US Ambassador that the Pope could not receive the President during his visit to Rome due to a previous engagement at a Congress of Youth in Switzerland. Nevertheless, the meeting was of such importance for the electoral campaign that Bush changed his own itinerary, something somewhat humiliating for one in his position, to come to Rome earlier and exert pressure to obtain an interview. Bush wanted to show the US electorate that even if the Pope did not support him with respect to the war, he could count on his support with respect to human values.
In spite of clear divergences between the Holy See and the US government with respect to foreign policy, Pope John Paul II supported the protestant George W Bush against the Catholic John Kerry in the presidential elections. This fact is of extreme importance to understand the position of the Vatican. Bush lost no opportunity to proclaim family values, opposition to abortion, to same-sex marriage, euthanasia, stem cell research and other topics that placed Bush closer to the moral principles of the Catholic Church than his adversary. Kerry, on the other hand, maintained that religious beliefs were a private affair and hence was considered by the ecclesiastical hierarchy as an exponent of cultural relativism and secularism to which the Church was opposed. The liberal ideas of Kerry were in conflict with the orthodoxy of Pope John Paul II. In addition, the Church had nothing to gain with Kerry since there was no indication that, as president, he would change the course of the war. The important lesson that we can take from the electoral triumph of Bush with the support of a majority of Catholics is that the Vatican places a priority on its opposition to secularism and moral relativism over other spheres such as those of international relations.
After the elections of 2004, Bush continued to court the Vatican. For the first time in history, with the nominations of John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, Catholics were in the majority (5 of 9) in the Supreme Court of the United States. President Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush assisted at the funeral of John Paul II in April of 2005. With Jimmy Carter there would have been three ex-presidents, but there was no room for Jimmy Carter on "Air Force One", according to the official explanation. The image of these three persons and of Condoleezza Rice who accompanied them, all four protestants, kneeling in front of the Pope in the Basilica of Saint Peter, could attest to a magnificent display of ecumenism, or, on the other hand, as the very paradigm of opportunist hypocrisy.
The election as pope of Cardinal Ratzinger represented a triumph of moral conservatism both of Catholics and Protestants. The new Pontiff would in general continue the political line traced by his predecessor, but with his own style even more identified with orthodoxy.
In June of 2007, Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State, went to Rome and requested an urgent meeting with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss matters concerning the Middle East. The Secretary would speak in the name of President Bush. The response was that the Pope was resting in his residence in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, and could not meet with her due to questions of protocol. Roman newspapers noted that there was a question here of disapproval of the Bush administration and in particular of the Secretary of State who had never been warmly accepted by the Vatican. It was she who, just before the beginning of the war in Iraq, made it clear to the envoy of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Pio Laghi, that the government of the United States had no interest whatsoever in the points of view of the Pope concerning the immorality of a military offensive. The Vatican also did not forget her discourteous absence from the papal audience in June of 2004.
In 2007, due to the illness of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, the White House and the Department of State thought that it was an opportune time to create events in Cuba that would lead to the restoration of capitalism in the Caribbean nation. To this end, they undertook to secure the support of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the contacts in the Vatican with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone did not produce the desired results. The Holy See did not share the criteria of US diplomatic personnel, considering them to be simplistic and without objective basis.
In April of 2008, Benedict XVI visited the United States as the presidential election campaign was under way. It was the first official visit of a Pontiff to Washington since the establishment of full diplomatic relations in 1984. The presence of the Pope in the United States in an electoral year constituted support for the Republican candidate in the face of the Democrat Barak Obama, who represented more liberal ideas. The situation was similar to that of 2004 with John Kerry, but this time, the Catholic faithful did not vote with the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
With the brand new Nobel Peace Prize winner as president, there was hope of greater agreement with the Pope on international affairs. On the contrary, Obama continued with the war plans of the Empire and threatened new military conflicts with Iran and Syria.
Although present relations between the Church and the US government are formally good, at the bottom there is a stealthy cultural war. The Holy See fears, more than ever, that the famous theory of a "clash of civilizations" of Samuel Huntington may become a reality.
A recent blow under the Obama administration was the inclusion of the Vatican (March, 2012) in the list of "financial crimes" published by the Department of State. For the first time, in spite of measures taken to avoid this, the Vatican is on the list of potential money launderers. This measure can be interpreted as a reprisal for the excellent relations of the Church with the Cuban State and the announcement of a visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI.
In effect, one month later, Benedict XVI made a successful pastoral visit to the island and asked the United States to put an end to the criminal economic blockade against Cuba.
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