Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Raúl Castro finding religion is just cheap talk

Pope Francis meets with Cuban President Raul Castro during a private audience at the Vatican on May 10.
Pope Francis meets with Cuban President Raul Castro during a private audience at the Vatican on May 10. AP

Dear God,

It’s me, Cuban-American journalist from Miami.

I hope you’re listening to Raúl Castro — with a skeptical ear.

In Cuban-speak, we call Castro’s newfound religious conversion “muela barata” — cheap talk.

The Cuban dictator says he likes Pope Francis so much that he’s returning to his Jesuit roots, taking up prayer and going to Mass.

“When the pope goes to Cuba in September,” Castro said at a Sunday news conference in Rome after visiting with Francis, “I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction.”

Are you there, God?

Because that’s not as good as it sounds to foreign ears.

Hear those as the words of the devil himself — or the Russians, speaking between the lines, during the Cold War.

What Castro was really saying is this: “When you come to Cuba, I’ll be watching you from the front pew. This is my kingdom. I call the shots.”

What a handy tool, this private audience at the Vatican on Mother’s Day, to keep Pope Francis in check, rein in his words before they’re even spoken before the Cuban people. What a clever way, this show of piety, to keep those who really need to be in his presence — the persecuted, freedom-clamoring dissidents and the hopeless youth who’d rather risk their lives at sea than live in Cuba — from being the focus of the popular pontiff’s visit.

Why, you should be so flattered — God, once booted from Cuba, to now be worthy of Raúl Castro’s prayers.

Cheap talk. There’s a lot of it going around.

Cheap talk is what Castro delivered in Panama and his brother Fidel echoed in Cuba during the Summit of the Americas. Both dutifully gushed about President Barack Obama, leader of the free world, while their devoted thugs were beating up Cuban dissidents on the streets of Panama City — right in Obama’s face.

Adulatory talk was what French President Francois Hollande, unpopular at home, showered on Fidel Castro during a Monday visit to Havana, a first for a French president. I wonder what Hollande meant when he said that Cubans should be able to keep “their identity” while developing a new relationship with the United States. We should all pray that Hollande doesn’t mean continue to persecute, jail without due process, and sustain the lack of a free press and access to the Internet.

“One can say whatever one wants, but Fidel Castro is the last great figure of the 20th century,” a member of the Communist Party in the French Parliament boasted after Hollande’s visit.

A strong stomach, God, is required to follow Cuba news — and, I imagine, hearing the Castro brothers pray as well.

They would do better going to confession, although there probably isn’t adequate penance, not enough Ave Marias or Padre Nuestros that these two could recite to atone for 56 years of crimes against the Cuban people.

Oh, forgive me, God and Pope Francis. I forgot that the way forward is to shut up, like all the Western world leaders are doing, and not bring up anything about this regime still being a dictatorship and a human rights violator to give diplomacy — and el dolarazo — a chance to change Cuba.

But it’s tough to say nothing when Castro runs his hypocritical mouth one way and the actions of his government go in the opposite direction, even at the smallest of junctures.

For such a reality check, turn to Tuesday’s visit to Florida of Jose R. Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

To show how it’s done Cuba-style, as a condition to speaking before the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Cabañas set up rules to restrain journalists: No photos or videotaping allowed — and no questions from the media.

The Americans on Florida’s west coast, in a rush to invest and frolic in the forbidden Communist (now with a question mark?) paradise, dutifully complied, acquiescing to un-American control of how journalists work.

Are you there, God?

I don’t hear you.

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