March 30, 2012
Tomas Bilbao, Americas Quarterly Blog
Like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba at a crucial time in the nation’s history. Pope John Paul II visited in 1998, a time when Communist Europe had crumbled and expectations of change were high; Pope Benedict XVI landed during a time of unprecedented internal change.
On Monday, the pontiff arrived in a country that for the first time in 50 years has a different president, is undergoing crucial economic reform and—most importantly—has witnessed fundamental societal changes. While the island is still ruled by a single party that routinely tramples on human rights and individual freedoms, the Cuba of today has also openly recognized the failure of its current economic model, has encouraged its citizens to openly debate the need for change, and has even recognized the legitimate role of Cubans living abroad in Cuba’s future. None of this was true 14 years ago when John Paul II visited.
Expectations of change in Cuba are higher today than at any time in the past half-century. Most experts—on the island and abroad—agree that further change is inevitable and that the recent reforms are irreversible. Benedict XVI may lack the charisma and anti-communist credentials of his predecessor, but the Holy Father’s presence alone—and his message of reconciliation—will no doubt facilitate the additional reform we would all like to see in Cuba....