Monday, February 25, 2008

Comrade Bertone

After a sit-down today with Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque (above), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is set to meet new Cuban President Raul Castro tomorrow in Havana.

The "Vice-Pope" will be the first foreign leader to hold talks with Castro since his formal ascent to the Communist nation's top post yesterday.
Bertone told diplomats in Havana - in a speech that was later distributed by the Cuban Catholic Church - that Cubans "have the right to feel proud of being Cuban and to be respected, valued and represented by those who govern them."

Bertone said Raul Castro and the Cuban leadership must show the "ability to listen and interpret more and more" to the needs of the Cubans.

In a joint press conference with Perez, Bertone said he expected "clarity" and "sincerity" in his meeting with the new Cuban leader but continued to talk of Fidel Castro as "president."

Bertone, who is commemorating the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to the communist island 10 years ago, said his relations with Cuban officials during a six-day visit that ends Tuesday have been "excellent."

"I have never been able to talk to Cuban authorities as much as in this third visit," the cardinal said. "That is very important, favourable." [NB: Named Secretary of State in September 2006, Bertone's first two trips to the island took place before he became the Holy See's second-in-command.]

He offered the Cuban leadership the "closeness" of the Catholic Church to "work for the common good" of the Cuban people.

"New President Raul, the new Council of State, the Catholic Church itself all try to recognize, to perceive the aspirations of the people and answer them with all possible means, bearing in mind the difficulties of the Cuban people, especially the economic blockade," said the Vatican's number two.

The Cuban Catholic Bishops' Conference (COCC) earlier Monday gave a "vote of confidence" to new President Castro, who they said has promised to implement changes for the "welfare of the Cuban people."
PHOTO: AP/Javier Galeano