Cuban bishops call for political reform

Mon Sep 16, 2013 2:06pm EDT
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's Roman Catholic church leadership in a letter to parishioners called on the communist-run country's leaders to "update" the political system to allow more freedom similar to liberalization undertaken in the economy.

The statement by the Cuban Bishops Conference, presented to the press on Monday and read in churches on Sunday, praised "incipient" reforms such as allowing small private businesses, more freedom to travel and buy personal property and the release of political prisoners, while at the same time urging a broader economic and political opening.

"We believe an updating of national legislation of a political nature is indispensable, as has been occurring in the economic realm," the bishops said in their letter.

"Cuba is called upon to be a plural society ... There must be a right to diversity in terms of thought, creativity and the search for truth," the statement added, without explicitly demanding a multi-party system and the restoration of capitalism.

The statement was by far the strongest issued by the Cuban Roman Catholic Church since Cardinal Jaime Ortega began a dialogue with Castro in 2010, which lead to the release of 115 political prisoners and its support for his reforms.

The Church issues such letters a few times a year.

Raul Castro, since replacing his ailing brother Fidel as president in 2008, has embarked on the most significant reform of the Soviet-style system since the 1959 revolution, even while insisting the country's one-party political system was untouchable.

Last year former Pope Benedict said communism had failed in Cuba and offered the Church's help in creating a new economic model, drawing a reserved response from the Cuban government ahead of an official visit to the island.   Continued...

Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference, speaks to reporters in Havana, September 16, 2013. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan