Does Castro have the slightest idea how the Pope impacted Poland? --MW ________________________________________________________________________ Pope's Cuba trip causes anguish, division in Miami Copyright ) 1998 Nando.net Copyright ) 1998 Reuters MIAMI (January 15, 1998 12:31 p.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - Nowhere is Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba causing more anguish than in Miami, where it has raised expectation and trepidation among Cuban Americans over what it means for their Communist-ruled homeland's future. The pontiff's trip starting next Wednesday has also sown division in a community which clings to the hope of one day returning to a Cuba free of President Fidel Castro's rule. Their dilemma lies in the hope that Pope John Paul will be a catalyst for change and the fear that his presence in Havana will lend legitimacy to Castro's government. "There is certainly a lot of apprehension and ambivalence. They don't know whether to be for or against it," Bishop Thomas Wenski of Miami's Roman Catholic Archdiocese told Reuters. "Certainly the sight of Castro and the pope shaking hands will be a bitter pill to swallow. We are dealing with highly emotional issues. The Cubans here are a wounded people." Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have settled in Florida after fleeing Cuba since Castro's 1959 revolution. Miami is the center of exile organizations dedicated to his overthrow. The charged debate over the pope's trip reveals strong differences on how a transition in Cuba might be achieved. A storm of controversy raged when the Archdiocese began organizing a pilgrimage from Miami to Havana by cruise ship led by Archbishop John Favalora. More than 400 Catholic faithful signed up for the trip, which would have culminated in their attending the pope's mass on Jan. 25 in Revolution Square. But last month right-wing exiles, among them prominent businessmen, forced it to be canceled. While the church said it wanted to show solidarity with Cuban faithful, hardliners said such a trip was morally wrong while Castro remained in power. In the end the Archdiocese arranged for about 180 people to fly to Havana on a one-day charter flight for the Jan. 25 mass. "The Cuban American community has two minds," said Max Castro of the University of Miami's North-South Center. "They hope the pope's visit will start a groundswell, like in Poland. But they must swallow the pope's cordial contacts with Castro, his de facto acceptance of the state and the possibility it will help legitimize the government." Exiles fear the pope's words could discredit U.S. policy and increase support for easing the 35-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba. Wenski said that in the eyes of many Cuban Americans, the Catholic Church in Cuba was a lackey of the government. But Pope John Paul wanted to strengthen the church and Favalora was anxious to show solidarity with it, he said. The pontiff also wanted to build up the church to be a force in an eventual transition in Cuba and offset the Cuban army, so far the only strong alternative entity, Wenski said. Some hardline exiles covet a prominent role themselves and do not welcome competition even from the church, he said. Exile groups plan to take advantage of the pope's visit to focus attention on what they see as political oppression in Cuba. The Cuban American National Foundation, the most powerful organization, has issued a graphic poster featuring a dead refugee child as part of its campaign. "It is also important that this visit serve to bring the attention of the world to the inequities and the lack of freedom prevalent in our homeland, and not the opposite," CANF president Francisco Hernandez said. "The pope should talk in Cuba in the same way that he spoke in Poland." The Democracy Movement plans to take a flotilla of boats and airplanes to international waters and airspace off Havana on Jan. 24, where exiles will conduct a prayer service. It said some of its members would try to land in Cuba without visas to attend Pope John Paul II's Mass. Even singer Gloria Estefan, Cuban Miami's favorite daughter, has had her say, turning down an approach from the church to sing in Havana for the pope. "We will never sing in Cuba while Fidel Castro's regime exists," she said. A series of small bomb explosions have hit Havana and tourist areas in the past 12 months, killing one person. The Cuban government has blamed Miami-based exile groups. The CANF says it condones but will not itself use violence to overthrow Castro. Paramilitary groups such as Alpha 66 still conduct military training in the Florida Everglades but no group has overtly spoken of disrupting the pope's trip with violence. "It will be a blow to the older generation of exiles if there's not an apocalyptic collapse of the Castro government. But I'm sure the pope will say something to give them comfort," Max Castro said.
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