By Paul Hohman
One of the more noble traditions of Catholicism is its active yearning for peace and its tradition of diplomacy between warring nations. Loving your enemy is as old a dictum as any Christianity possesses and it is still the hardest, and consequently the most profound, to practice.
In 2014’s eleventh hour, amidst the attention-consuming swirl of Christmas time, during the longest nights of the year, a ray of light shone in that darkness. The culmination of a year and a half of behind-the-scenes negotiations encouraged by Pope Francis, Cuba and the United States have restored diplomatic relations — the beginning of a rapprochement between these two neighbors after 52 years of feuding.
In an America focused on its biggest consumerist holiday, it was a media bombshell, and its repercussions will be felt for years to come.
Cuba has been a blind spot for the people of the United States, but not for most other western nations. It has long been a vacation destination for Europeans. Canada, Mexico, Central and South America all have diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba, and it was high time we did, too.
Like siblings at odds over an ancient dispute, Cuba and the United States have maintained a wary relationship of resentment and suspicion, and like family, the two countries are very close to one another and simply have to learn to get along. Indeed, a literal “father” figure, Pope Francis’ unique Latin American viewpoint enabled him to encourage a reunion between governments that had often perpetuated the rift for their own political ends.
Socialism in Cuba, born in the 1950’s out of the overthrow of the corrupt Batista regime and its association with U.S. business interests and propped up by organized crime, had as its rebel hero Fidel Castro (coincidentally a product of Jesuit education). The U.S., already fighting a proxy war with Russia, nudged the island nation into the Communist orbit after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which culminated in the Cuban missile crisis. The prospect of Russian nuclear weapons poised to fire within a few miles of American soil cemented a trade embargo that would last for more than a half century, longer than any other in our history.
Often the best diplomacy is conducted in secrecy, without the prying eyes and clamoring voices of special interests to obstruct the path to peace. Perhaps it took the perspective of the first pope from Latin America to foster reconciliation and the Catholic peacemaking tradition to reunite two countries with a tradition of devout Christianity.
Already the agreement is producing results — 53 Americans have been released from Cuban prisons — and it is an achievement that should continue to yield benefits for many years (and enhance the lackluster foreign policy legacy of the current administration).
But politics aside, the new, more vigorous relationship can be a boon to both countries. Despite its small size and population, Cuba brims with the vibrant music and dance culture of afro-cuban jazz and its talented pool of baseball players could bring new vigor to our major leagues. Religious mission trips are already allowed and in the future vacationing Americans will bring an economic boost to the small island nation.
Banks now exchange money between our nations, and trade restrictions have been relaxed. While the notion of a Starbucks on every corner in Havana is dispiriting, the advantages of commerce between our two countries should not be overlooked. A relatively predictive maxim in economic theory is that countries who are trading partners rarely go to war against each other because it is not in their best interest.
So while the world seems to swirl in increasing chaos, rife with discord, protest and aggression, it is refreshing to note that with small but determined steps, a greater harmony can be restored.
In the truest tradition of the Catholic Church and the teachings of Jesus, Pope Francis is truly a prince of peace. Our thanks should go both to the efforts of the Vatican and its intermediaries, the U.S. bishops, to restore that trust and friendship between nations — a most wonderful of Christmas gifts, the kind that keeps
Paul Hohman is production manager at The Record.