Pope says US trade ban is `unjust and ethically unacceptable'


The Pope has condemned US economic sanctions on Cuba as "unjust and ethically unacceptable". Speaking at Jose Marti Airport before his departure from Havana at 12.30 this morning (Irish time), he described the sanctions as "oppressive economic measures".

Earlier he told hundreds of thousands of people at Mass on Plaza de la Revolucion in the Cuban capital that the modern state "cannot make atheism or religion one of its political ordinances" and described freedom of conscience as "the basis and foundation of all other human rights". At a meeting with the country's bishops yesterday afternoon, he called on Cubans in exile to work in solidarity with their nation's progress. Condemning the economic sanctions imposed by the US, he said that in our day no nation can live in isolation.

"The Cuban people cannot therefore be denied the contact with other people necessary for economic, social, and cultural development, especially since such imposed isolation strikes the people indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living - things such as food, health and education," he said.

"All can and should take practical steps to bring about changes in this regard," he said. "This is especially so for nations which share the same Christian heritage."

Speaking at Mass at the Plaza de la Revolucion, he assured the Catholic Church in Cuba that it was not "alone or isolated" but was part of the universal church which extends throughout the world.

Telling the crowds he was bringing them a message of love and solidarity in Jesus Christ, he said this "in absolutely no way" was an ideology or a new economic or political system.

He criticised "unsustainable economic programmes" which were imposed on nations as a condition for further help and said that as a result "in the international community, we thus see a small number of countries growing exceedingly rich at the cost of the increasing impoverishment of a great number of other countries". This meant "the wealthy grew ever wealthier while the poor grew ever poorer".

To loud cheers he said: "Cuba has a Christian soul" and called on the country to open itself to the world and said the world needs to draw close to Cuba.

At a meeting with the country's bishops yesterday afternoon, he said that when the church demands religious freedom, it was not asking for a gift, "rather she demands the effective recognition of an inalienable human right". This was a right which was not conditional on the behaviour of the pastors of the church or its faithful, and much less for ideological or economic considerations, he said. It was a matter of "a right belonging to every person and every people".

Referring to Cuban exiles, he called on them to "co-operate peacefully and in a constructive and respectful way in the nation's progress, avoiding useless confrontation and encouraging an atmosphere of positive dialogue and mutual understanding".

They should be encouraged, he said, "to practise a generous solidarity with their Cuban brothers and sisters most in need; thus they will demonstrate their profound attachment to their homeland".

And in an indirect reference to the exclusion of the church from Cuba's education system and the media, he said: "The secular state should not fear but rather appreciate the church's moral and educational role. In this respect, it is normal that the church should have access to the communications media."

Reuter reports from Madrid:

The daughter of President Fidel Castro has requested political asylum in Spain, a Spanish newspaper reported yesterday. Ms Alina Fernandez Revuelta (41) who escaped from Cuba in 1993 disguised as a Spanish tourist and has lived since then in the United States, made her application on Friday at the Office of Asylum and Refuge in Madrid, El Pais said.

"I am the daughter of Fidel Castro," Ms Fernandez was quoted as giving as the reason for her request. News of Ms Fernandez's asylum plea surfaced in the midst of Pope John Paul's historic visit to Cuba, and El Pais suggested Dr Castro's estranged daughter had timed her action to embarrass her father.

She has long been a vocal critic of President Castro, accusing him of failing her as a father and of failing the Cuban people as their leader.

Ms Fernandez, in an interview on Saturday with French radio France Info, said her father's speech after the Pope's arrival last week on the communist-ruled island was "rather pathetic and very aggressive".

Ms Fernandez, who is publishing a book about her father, said she feared "terrible disorder" in the country if the 71-year-old Dr Castro became unable to govern.

Spanish government officials were not immediately available for comment on the El Pais report. Authorities have three months to process Ms Fernandez's asylum request.

The Vatican said last night that the Cuban government was "studying" Pope John Paul's plea for the release of political prisoners. "In response to the interest transmitted by the Holy See regarding some prisoners, the Cuban authorities have assured the Vatican today that they are studying the issue attentively and that they will provide a quick response," said a statement issued by chief Vatican spokesman, Mr Joaquin Navarro Valls.