Pope Francis arrived in Cuba on Saturday, and these images, including the pontiff’s meeting with Fidel Castro, are saturated with history. Here we have an Argentine, “Peronist” pope—born just eight years after Ernesto “Che” Guevara, his compatriot and Castro’s revolutionary comrade—celebrating an enormous, open-air mass under an iconic image of Che and attended by the Argentine president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In a way, the pope’s visit baptized the beginning of a new era—what should be called not the “normalization” of Washington-Havana relations but rather the normalization of the United States’ perverse half-century obsession with Cuba—one that the pope himself was instrumental in bringing about. In The Washington Post, R.R. Reno, who is editor of the arch-conservative and anti-Jesuit First Things, says that “Francis himself is attracted to clerical special ops,” and his secret diplomacy between Havana and Washington was Kissinger-worthy (except of course most of Kissinger’s machinations greatly increased the world’s share of misery).
Added to the history is the fascinating AFP interview with Che’s daughter Aleida Guevara just before Francis’ arrival on the island, in which she said she wasn’t going to attend the mass. Most Spanish and English sources only reported the part where she complained about the government’s urging people to attend as “party work.” “Here,” she said, “there is freedom of belief and I don’t believe.” Harder to find in coverage of the interview is that Guevara accused the Catholic Church of being “complicit in the assassinations and disappearance of more than 30,000 Argentines” during that country’s military dictatorship. Francis himself, then known as Father Jorge Bergoglio, has a murky history during that period—accused of not doing enough to protect priests tormented by the junta—which one of his biographers identifies as provoking a moral crisis in the pope that transformed his politics. Guevara alludes to this in her interview: “I don’t know where the pope was during this moment. What did he really do? I don’t know.”
A further irony is that the pope has decided to use Cuba—long the object of US invasion and occupation—as the staging ground for what the right in this country describes as an ideological assault on American exceptionalism and on the individual supremacy that underwrites that idiocy. Conservatives in this country will undoubtedly issue a series of increasingly absurd comments protesting his visit. Latin America’s tradition of social democracy and social rights stands in sharp contrast to their increasingly unstable and dangerous faith in individual rights (which is what is at stake in their hatred of Latinos).