A little-known book about Cuba by Jorge Mario Bergoglio now Pope Francis provides new insight into his views on Cuban society, Marxism and the U.S. trade embargo that helped inform his behind-the-scenes role in helping bring about the historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Bergoglio compiled "Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro" in 1998, soon after the Polish pope's landmark visit to the communist island. Bergoglio attended the event as the soon-to-be-named archbishop of Buenos Aires, but he clearly was versed in the issues well before given the impact of the Cold War standoff throughout Latin America.
In the booklet, Bergoglio harshly criticized socialism and by extension Castro's atheist revolution for denying individuals their "transcendent dignity" and putting them solely at the service of the state. At the same time, he denounced the U.S. embargo and economic isolation of Cuba that impoverished the island.
"The Cuban people must overcome this isolation," he wrote.
Significantly, the first chapter of the book is titled "The value of dialogue," and it is clear that Bergoglio fervently believes as did John Paul that dialogue was the only way to end Cuba's isolation and its hostility to the Catholic Church while promoting democracy.
In quoting from both John Paul and Castro's speeches during the trip, Bergoglio noted that the two sometimes talked past one another as John Paul insisted on a space for the church to operate in Cuba and Castro insisted on the similarities between Marxism and Christianity.
"But they both had to listen to each other," he wrote.
Francis has frequently emphasized the need for dialogue to forge peace, as evidenced by his invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come together to pray at the Vatican last June. His invitation to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban counterpart Raul Castro to hash out their differences over the Caribbean island, with the Vatican as a mediator, was done in that same vein.
Austen Ivereigh, who referenced the book in his new biography of Francis "The Great Reformer," said Bergoglio demonstrated an "incredibly evenhanded" approach to the Cuban problem while outlining a future for the island that may well be more realistic now that the thaw has begun.
"He sees Cuba's future as being a democratic government rooted in the Christian, humanist values of the Cuban pueblo," he said in a phone interview. "It's a kind of nationalist Catholic understanding of politics, neither left nor right, neither communism nor unadulterated market capitalism."