Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned: On Ideology and Governance in Cuba

When you are Pope Benedict XVI, all roads do lead to Rome. Some just take a detour by places like Miramar, Cuba, where Fidel Castro lives.

The Holy Father held an open-air mass in Havana's Revolution Square on his last day in Cuba. Afterwards, the Pope Mobile made its way up Independence Avenue, on its way out of Havana. Normally, it would have taken Benedict XVI directly to Boyeros and José Martí International Airport. However, it actually made one stop along the way.

It seems there was still time in his schedule for some unplanned visits after all.

In spite of citing a tight schedule when declining to meet both Santería leaders and dissident groups, the Holy Father found room in his official agenda to meet with Fidel Castro.

It might be part of his evangelical mission as the elder brother is no longer the Head of State. If so, might there have been a private Sacrament of Confession with and admission of guilt, absolution and penance? This is hard to imagine, but given that Fidel is 85 years old, the Comandante may have rediscovered his Catholic roots and may indeed be trying to get ready to meet his maker -- with all the soul searching that may entail.

However, if it was part of the state visit, then the Holy See understands where the seat of power is in Cuba. The pope seems to grasp that the type of change Cuba needs -- and that the Church hopes to influence -- requires His (Fidel's) blessing. Benedict XVI may simply have wanted to look into the man's eyes and come to an understanding. All is forgiven, no questions asked.

Though Raúl has heralded many socio-economic changes since his ascension to power, Fidel's original, underlying political structure has not changed. Nor shall it, as vice president of the Council of Ministers Marino Murillo made perfectly clear on Tuesday, "There will be no changes to the political model in Cuba."

You see, policy is imperfect. Ideology is infallible.

M. Murillo should know. He is largely responsible for having established a new system of national economic accounting and for structuring the new model of economic development; all changes aimed at ensuring the political survival of socialism, as much as to improve the Cuban economy (though we must note that the average Cuban's standard of living remains at a lower level than before the 1990's Special Period in Times of Peace downturn). He is also Raul's likely successor.

Anyone who thinks they understand Cuban politics, must be either one of the Castro brothers or wrong. Even with Marxist dialectics as a tool, the ambivalent and contradictory relationship between policy and ideology is at best hazy. The byzantine system of direct, public consultation that Raúl used to draw up the policy guide for the VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party included everyone's opinions but marshaled the Party troops in one direction. The 'bureaucrats' were corrupt and new measures needed to be put in place to give 'the people' the riches they deserve under socialism.

The system was inefficient because it had been corrupted, not because it was broken.

And now the pope has come to Cuba to encourage its leaders to continue transforming their system, to give faith to its people whilst history runs its course, and to ask for a voice in society. But perhaps they don't understand Cuban politics either.

After all, when it was all said and done, in front of Pope Benedict XVI's open-air altar on Havana's Revolution Square there were the twin wrought iron silhouettes of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Behind him, the 60-foot white marble statue of José Martí. To one side a giant portrait of the Patroness of Cuba.

Curiously, on the other side, the 10-foot high "Patria o Muerte" ['Motherland or Death'] sign that is on top of the National Theater was discretely camouflaged with a yellow tarp that read "Caridad nos une" [both "'Charity' and 'Our Lady of Charity of Cobre' unites us"]. It seems ironical that the belligerent marquee would have been the only sign that would not have contravened canonical scripture against worshiping icons.

As the cleaning crews began to sweep up discarded Papal water bottles, broken Papal fans, ripped Papal hats, and discarded miniature Vatican flags, people headed back home to enjoy their last official day off. This week, everyone had an unexpected vacation from the 26th-28th of March. Everyone it seems, except the bureau where you register visiting tourists. They even worked on Sunday.

God works in mysterious ways.