In Cuba, Hugo Chávez gets spiritual support from Jesus - not Marx

David Paulin
Religion in Cuba has long been marginalized: Marx was promoted over Jesus. Communist elites along with their goons and starry-eyed wannabees wouldn't be caught dead at a Catholic mass -- a subversive act in the hemisphere's last bastion of communism during its worst days; and now an act seen as politically incorrect.

So how ironic that Hugo Chávez, thought to be on his death bed in Havana while battling terminal cancer, is getting a boost from Jesus -- not Marx. Hundreds of Cubans and foreign officials have been praying for Chávez in some of the few churches on the Caribbean island -- an overwhelmingly secular state after generations of religious persecution. What's more, the outpouring of religious feelings for El Presidente is apparently taking place with the blessing of the state (though it's not being played up in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party).

Over the years, Cuba's communist ruling class has persecuted ordinary Cubans for embracing religion -- calling it the opium of the masses and counter revolutionary. Yet an exception is being made for Chávez who, in recent months, has claimed to have found religion. In Venezuela, he has sprinkled his speeches with references to Christ and affirmed his "faith in God" - all the while simultaneously promoting his vision of a utopian socialist state. On December 11, Chávez underwent a fourth delicate cancer surgery in Havana, and shortly thereafter he contracted a pulmonary infection that's now causing severe breathing problems.

Last Saturday, Chávez's new-found religious feelings got a boost at the Cathedral of Havana where 400 people prayed for his recovery. In his homily for Chávez, parish priest Yosvany Carvajal was quoted by Venezuelan news outlet Globovision as telling his audience: "Today, thanks to your faith, we pray in a very special manner for President Chávez; that the Lord bless him and accompany him on his speedy recovery." Among the well-to-do audience members: Venezuelan Ambassador Edgardo Ramirez and Alex Castro, a son of Fidel Castro and his staff photographer.

It was the second Catholic mass for Chávez, noted Globovision. The first on December 14 was at the church Jesús de Miramar in Havana. It was attended by Cuban and Venezuelan military officials and by Latin American diplomats based in Havana; and many no doubt shared a similar concern: If Chávez dies, the oil largesse and money he channels to his allies may be shut off by pragmatic Venezuelan leaders. 

Besides the Catholic masses, Globovision noted that Argentina President Cristina Kirchner arrived in Cuba last Friday carrying a bible for Chávez. She had lunch with the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, and later met with Chávez family members.

Cuba long ago became an overwhelmingly secular state -- at least for ordinary Cubans who now depend on the state for their emotional and physical sustenance. That the island's elites and visiting officials are attending Catholic masses for Chávez suggests that religion in Cuba - while not completely acceptable for ordinary people - is nevertheless acceptable for certain elites, under certain circumstances.

It's an odd case of religion for the classes - and socialism for the masses


Religion in Cuba has long been marginalized: Marx was promoted over Jesus. Communist elites along with their goons and starry-eyed wannabees wouldn't be caught dead at a Catholic mass -- a subversive act in the hemisphere's last bastion of communism during its worst days; and now an act seen as politically incorrect.

So how ironic that Hugo Chávez, thought to be on his death bed in Havana while battling terminal cancer, is getting a boost from Jesus -- not Marx. Hundreds of Cubans and foreign officials have been praying for Chávez in some of the few churches on the Caribbean island -- an overwhelmingly secular state after generations of religious persecution. What's more, the outpouring of religious feelings for El Presidente is apparently taking place with the blessing of the state (though it's not being played up in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party).

Over the years, Cuba's communist ruling class has persecuted ordinary Cubans for embracing religion -- calling it the opium of the masses and counter revolutionary. Yet an exception is being made for Chávez who, in recent months, has claimed to have found religion. In Venezuela, he has sprinkled his speeches with references to Christ and affirmed his "faith in God" - all the while simultaneously promoting his vision of a utopian socialist state. On December 11, Chávez underwent a fourth delicate cancer surgery in Havana, and shortly thereafter he contracted a pulmonary infection that's now causing severe breathing problems.

Last Saturday, Chávez's new-found religious feelings got a boost at the Cathedral of Havana where 400 people prayed for his recovery. In his homily for Chávez, parish priest Yosvany Carvajal was quoted by Venezuelan news outlet Globovision as telling his audience: "Today, thanks to your faith, we pray in a very special manner for President Chávez; that the Lord bless him and accompany him on his speedy recovery." Among the well-to-do audience members: Venezuelan Ambassador Edgardo Ramirez and Alex Castro, a son of Fidel Castro and his staff photographer.

It was the second Catholic mass for Chávez, noted Globovision. The first on December 14 was at the church Jesús de Miramar in Havana. It was attended by Cuban and Venezuelan military officials and by Latin American diplomats based in Havana; and many no doubt shared a similar concern: If Chávez dies, the oil largesse and money he channels to his allies may be shut off by pragmatic Venezuelan leaders. 

Besides the Catholic masses, Globovision noted that Argentina President Cristina Kirchner arrived in Cuba last Friday carrying a bible for Chávez. She had lunch with the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, and later met with Chávez family members.

Cuba long ago became an overwhelmingly secular state -- at least for ordinary Cubans who now depend on the state for their emotional and physical sustenance. That the island's elites and visiting officials are attending Catholic masses for Chávez suggests that religion in Cuba - while not completely acceptable for ordinary people - is nevertheless acceptable for certain elites, under certain circumstances.

It's an odd case of religion for the classes - and socialism for the masses