* Dong-Phuong Nguyen, "Monseñor Higgins bendijo a Castro en La Habana", Diario Las Américas, Miami (traducido del St. Petersburg Times)
* David Karp, Steve Huettel, Dong-Phuong Nguyen, "Greco defends his visit to Cuba", St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Agosto 22, 2002: Diario Las Américas, Miami
Monseñor Higgins bendijo a Castro en La Habana
El prominente sacerdote de Tampa explica sus razones
Por Dong-Phuong Nguyen, "St. Petersburg Times"
Durante la visita del Alcalde de Tampa Dick Greco a La Habana, mientras el grupo estaba en el vestíbulo de un edificio gubernamental en la Plaza de la Revolución, la Dra. Linda Greco, esposa del Alcalde, se dirigió al más prominente sacerdote de Tampa, Monseñor Laurence Higgins:
"Monseñor", le dijo ella, "bendiga al presidente allí antes de salir".
¿Bendecir a Castro? ¿El hombre que hizo de Cuba un estado ateo después de convertirse en el gobernante comunista de la isla en 1959? El martes, Monseñor Higgins confirmó los rumores acerca de la inusitada escena que ocurrió durante el viaje del grupo a Cuba el mes pasado.
Después de la sugerencia de la señora Greco, Monseñor Higgins y Castro se miraron. Castro, el cual entiende inglés, asintió con la cabeza y dijo: "Sí".
Sabiendo que Castro se crió como católico y asistió a escuelas Jesuítas, Monseñor le dijo a Castro: "Lo bendeciré a usted en el idioma en el cual usted creció". Castro bajó la cabeza.
Monseñor Higgins puso sus manos sobre la cabeza de Castro y comenzó a rezar: "Que Dios el Padre, el Hijo y el Espíritu Santo desciendan sobre usted y lo bendigan. Amén". Luego le dijo en inglés "Que Dios le dé a usted la fuerza de hacer Su voluntad. Amén". Castro alzó la mirada, tomó las manos de Monseñor y lo abrazó.
El contingente de Tampa observó la escena de la bendición en silencio. Algunas cámaras tomaron fotografias.
Monseñor Higgins, un prominente líder católico bien conocido en Tampa, se preguntó a sí mismo más tarde: "Me sorprendería si alguien haya rezado con él y lo haya bendecido, de cara a cara (desde la Revolución)". Monseñor también pensó acerca de Linda Greco y dijo: "Ella es una dama valiente".
De manera que, ¿cómo es que un monseñor de Tampa acaba por bendecir a un hombre que confiscó propiedades de la Iglesia y una vez expulsó a un obispo y a 130 sacerdotes de su país? Un experto en historia de Cuba dice que la respuesta es simple: Castro tiene 76 años de edad.
"Hay mucha nostalgia en su vida en este punto", dijo Ann Louise Bardach, la cual ha entrevistado a Castro dos veces y cuyo libro sobre Cuba, titulado "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana", saldrá de la imprenta en octubre. "Él es viejo ahora. Él necesita todos los aliados que pueda obtener".
No obstante, la señora Basdach no creía que él (Castro) iría tan lejos como bajar la cabeza para ser bendecido. "Quién sabe lo que (Castro) estaba haciendo o pensando. Rezar me parece a mí (que es) una actividad decididamente contraria en Castro".
Castro rezó bastante mientras crecía. Él asistió a escuelas Jesuítas y una vez salvó a un sacerdote que se estaba ahogando y rezaba con las monjas. Pero cuando tomó el poder, dijo Bardach, él se dió cuenta de que la Iglesia no lo apoyaría. De manera que trató de abolirla.
Ya los cubanos no son ridiculizados ni aislados por rezar, pero la revolución paralizó la religión organizada, dijo Monseñor Higgins. Gran número de residentes de Cuba nacieron después de que Castro tomó el poder y crecieron sin la Iglesia Católica. En su histórico viaje a Cuba en 1998, el Sumo Pontífice Pablo II habló sobre la necesidad de ampliar el papel de la religión en Cuba. Pero el estado de la religión en Cuba es "aterrador", dijo Monseñor.
Monseñor Higgins dijo que él hizo el viaje para ver por sí mismo cómo se practicaba la religión en Cuba y que él espera trabajar a base de Iglesia a Iglesia, sin la intervención del gobierno. "Personalmente, yo no fui allí a reunirme con Fidel Castro. Este no fue mi propósito en absoluto".
El viaje provocó las críticas de grupos cubanoamericanos que cuestionaron si las visitas de funcionarios como el Alcalde Greco y líderes comerciales ayudan a legitimar el gobierno de Castro.
Desde su regreso de Cuba, Monseñor Higgins, de 73 años, ha recibido reacciones encontradas de sus feligreses. "Algunos están molestos. Yo puedo comprenderlo, pero creo que Cuba está en su recta final. Ellos (los cubanos) necesitan ayuda".
Aug. 2, 2002: St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg, Fla.
Greco defends his visit to Cuba
David Karp, Steve Huettel, Dong-Phuong Nguyen
The meeting, which infuriated many Cuban-Americans who learned about Greco's trip while the mayor already was in Cuba,was being held to help the island's children, Greco said.
Greco told [Fidel Castro] that he would not undermine U.S. policy on Cuba, although some officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, say that may be what Greco's visit did.
Mayor Dick Greco and a contingent of Tampa business leaders were packing their bags Wednesday to return home when word arrived. They had to be ready in an hour.
Cuban President Fidel Castro, the man who represents repression and exile for thousands of Tampa's Cuban-Americans, would meet them.
At noon, they stepped off an elevator in a building on the Revolutionary Plaza in Havana, where Castro, dressed in military fatigues, was waiting. He shook hands and kissed the women on the cheek.
Men were given cigars and later were offered brandy. The women left with a mixed bouquet of flowers.
As the mayor sat down next to the Cuban dicator, he told Castro why he had accepted this meeting.
"This is not about you," Greco told Castro. "This is not about me."
The meeting, which infuriated many Cuban-Americans who learned about Greco's trip while the mayor already was in Cuba, was being held to help the island's children, Greco said.
"We are in our waning years, not just in politics, but in life," said Greco, who is leaving the mayor's office next year.
Greco told Castro that he would not undermine U.S. policy on Cuba, although some officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, say that may be what Greco's visit did.
"The president of the United States is my friend," Greco told Castro. "I like and respect him. I believe in this man. I really do. Whatever my president does, I will do also."
Greco said he spoke firmly, making it clear he would not break from his country's policies.
But back in Tampa on Thursday, Greco faced a barrage of questions about whether he had betrayed the Cuban-Americans he represents by dining with the Communist dictator.
At a news conference, Greco gripped the lectern as he defended his trip. Tears welled in his eyes as he said he cares about the pain Tampa's Cubans feel.
Greco spoke about helping Cubans in Tampa when they couldn't vote. His father gave immigrants credit at his hardware store in Ybor City when others would not, he said.
"I have cried with them. I have sympathized with them, I love them," Greco said. "Those that know me, know that."
Simon Canasi, a longtime friend of the mayor's who is a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch, stood up at the news conference to challenge Greco. No one could understand what Cuban-Americans lost, said Canasi, whose parents left Cuba.
"You're right," Greco said. "There is no one who could feel that pain. Thank God."
Lawyer Dario Diaz, the partner of prominent anti-Castro lawyer Ralph Fernandez, asked if anyone on the trip had a relative who had been a political prisoner in Cuba.
"You cannot dig in your heels," Greco said, growing agitated. "The Bible says you shouldn't hate. That's hard to do."
Greco denied that the meeting was done in secret, though the mayor didn't tell anyone, including his closest city aides, about it.
"There's never anything secret where 20 people go," he said.
Greco had thought for years about visiting Cuba, but had turned down earlier invitations.
This year, Albert Fox, executive director of the Washington- based Alliance for Responsible Cuban Policy Foundation, persuaded him to go. Fox, one of the few Americans invited by Castro to Elian Gonzalez's birthday party in Cuba, had been trying to organize a trip from Tampa for three years.
Greco said the recent congressional votes to loosen U.S. trade restrictions to Cuba convinced him it was time.
He insisted that the trip was not about economic development, though many of the city's top business leaders, including the present and a former chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, went along.
Executives at TECO Energy, who declined to attend, said the trip was presented as an economic development opportunity for Tampa, a spokeswoman said.
On Saturday, the group met at Greco's house on Harbour Island to prepare for the trip. He told them it would be controversial. But no one was prepared for what happened when they sat down with Castro.
The meeting lasted five hours and 40 minutes. As the group sat in silence, Greco and Castro talked about life in their two countries as if they were old friends.
"There was a connection between Dick and Castro," said the mayor's wife, Dr. Linda McClintock-Greco, who also went on the trip.
Castro has a legendary ability to talk for hours. But the groups said he listened to Greco for nearly 40 minutes.
Castro, who spoke through an interpreter even though he is fluent in English, peppered the mayor with questions:
What is the size of Tampa? How many garbage collectors do you have? How are City Council members elected? What is the water supply? What are the housing costs? Why do so many tourists visit Orlando?
After about 2 1/2 hours, the conversation continued over a lunch of shrimp cocktail, chicken and yellow rice and vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
Castro spoke in a soft voice about obscure topics like Chilean wine and the yellow onions he prefers, which are grown in Tampa.
He also spoke about art, and urged the group to visit the Centro Asturiano that his goverment is renovating in Cuba. The building was the inspiration for the Centro Asturiano in Ybor City.
The dictator seemed fascinated by details of American life. He didn't understand why the U.S. court system is so complicated. He even listened to Greco explain the Hope Six grant that will be used to tear down public housing in Tampa.
The meeting was cordial. Greco addressed the leader as "sir."
He did not ask Castro about human rights violations or political prisoners.
After about 40 minutes, according to La Gaceta publisher Patrick Manteiga, Castro remarked, "I didn't know there were philosopher- mayors.'
Earlier, Greco's group had toured Havana and driven into the countryside. The mayor was stunned by the country's decaying grandeur.
"I was looking at somewhat of a skeleton of a beautiful past," he said.
At the news conference, Greco also praised Cuba's free health care system, free public schools and high voter turnout. Most of all, he said, he was impressed by the dignity of the people.
Greco stopped to talk to doormen, maids and men playing dominoes on the street.
One night, Greco was going into a disco where only foreigners were allowed. A Cuban girl who looked about 18 asked if she could join their group and pay her own $15 cover charge.
Greco didn't accept the offer, and introduced his wife. The girl was probably a prostitute, someone later pointed out.
"She probably wanted to pay $15 to make $300. That's a $285 profit," Greco said. "She thinks like we do."
Even though the people looked poor, everyone was clean, Greco said. It made him rethink his views.
"You begin to have emotions when you look around and see the beautiful little children, and they haven't had what we have had."
- Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. David Karp can be reached at (813) 226- 3376 or email@example.com.
Here are the 20 people who went on the trip to Cuba:
Lillian Beard - wife of Dick Beard, chairman of the University of South Florida board of trustees and co-chair of the Tampa Host committee trying to attract the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Allison Beard - daughter of Dick Beard.
Joseph Bryant - lawyer and president of Tampa-La Habana Humanitarian Society Inc.
Albert Fox Jr. - executive director, Alliance for Responsible Cuban Policy.
Henry Gonzalez III - member of the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce; senior vice president, Armenia office, the Bank of Tampa.
Dick Greco - Tampa mayor.
Linda McClintock-Greco - mayor's wife.
Monsignor Laurence Higgins - St. Lawrence Catholic Church.
Tad Humphreys - president, International Ship Repair and Marine Services.
Richard Jacobson - lawyer, Fowler White law firm.
Jennifer Johnston - assistant to Al Fox.
Rhea Law - president, Fowler White; member, USF Board of Trustees.
Joseph Lopez - lawyer, Fowler White.
David Mechanik - partner, Mechanik Nuccio law firm; worked on Greco's 1995 mayoral campaign.
Dr. Valerie Mechanik - an ob-gyn and wife of David Mechanik.
Sandy MacKinnon - chairman of Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; chief executive, Yale Industrial Trucks.
Dottie MacKinnon-Berger - former Hillsborough County Commissioner, wife of Sandy MacKinnon.
Patrick Manteiga - publisher of La Gaceta.
Jay Weisman - owner, Southern Estate Buyers and Appraisers; long- time friend of Al Fox.
Kirk Weisman - Sarasota businessman, owner of Weisman Ventures; Jay Weisman's son.
Mayor [Dick Greco]; Joe Lopez, a lawyer with Fowler White; [Linda McClintock-Greco]; Greco; and Rhea Law, president of Fowler White, pose in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.; Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, an unidentified Cuban, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, president of; the National Assembly of Cuba, and Linda McClintock-Greco meet at Alarcon's home.; Photo: PHOTO; PHOTO, [Patrick Manteiga], (2)
* Link para el artículo de Armando Valladares, "El pedido de perdón que no hubo: la colaboración eclesiástica con el comunismo": http://www.cubdest.org/0002/cvperd.html
* Para leer más artículos de Valladares, haga clic en http://www.cubdest.org y coloque "Valladares" (sin las comillas) en el Free Find.
* E-mail de Mons. Lawrence Higgins: firstname.lastname@example.org
* E-mails de la Sra. Conchita Tilton, asesora del Alcalde Greco, de Tampa: Conchita.Tilton@ci.tampa.fl.us