On Cuban TV, a dose of politics along with Pope Francis

A man watches the arrival airport ceremony for Pope Francis in the capital on a television set at a government office in Holguin, Cuba, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.
A man watches the arrival airport ceremony for Pope Francis in the capital on a television set at a government office in Holguin, Cuba, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. AP

Watch enough Cuban state-run television on a regular day, and the revolution-speak is impossible to escape.

Solidaridad. Explotación. Bloqueo. Solidarity. Exploitation. Embargo.

Watch during special coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the island, and the language doesn’t change. The pundits just manage to apply it to the Holy Father.

Thousands of people waving to Francis as he rides on the Pope Mobile? A sign of “the solidarity of the Cuban people,” an interviewer explains.

Francis’ upbringing in Argentina? A formative experience growing up in “dictatorship” and under "neoliberalism,” says a news anchor.

His trip to the U.S. after four days in Cuba? “I’m sure he’ll also advocate against the embargo,” predicts a man described as an “intellectual.”

Cuban television offered wall-to-wall coverage Saturday and Sunday of Francis’ visit to Havana, with four channels (at least on hotel televisions viewed by foreign reporters in Holguín, where the pope will travel Monday) broadcasting the program. A fifth, Venezuela-based TeleSur, had its own anchors and commentators.

All praised the pontiff. But politics weren’t far behind.

“The world is divided between right and left,” a commentator declared as fact, his remark unchallenged. Said another: “Christ was also a progressive man.”

A news story touched on Francis’ recent encyclical, or church teaching document, on the environment. “Conservative groups that subsist, especially in the United States,” deny man-made climate change, the narrator emphasized.

Another package was devoted to Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who arrived in Havana for Francis’ Mass.

More than 300,000 worshipers attended a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the Plaza de La Revolución in Havana, Cuba on Sunday morning, Sept. 20, 2015.

She called Cuba a “land of heroism” and predicted the U.S. trade embargo’s days were numbered.

“Walls, embargoes start falling,” she said. “They end up falling from the weight of history.” A news anchor called for “solidarity” with Argentina over that country’s dispute with the U.K. over the Falkland Islands.

Even former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, unseen in public during Francis’ visit, made an appearance in a video clip from a 1990 speech. He praised a different sort of belief system — “revolutionary faith” and “faith in socialism” — and implied his regime was a result of people’s prayers for change having been “heard in heaven and heard on earth.”

Message: Catholicism has competition. And not just from communism.

TV coverage repeatedly featured Cuban Protestants, Jews, Santeros and “Spiritists.” One anchor referred to it all as “the peculiar religiosity of the Cuban people.”

Still, it was clear the TV hosts relished drawing the eyes of the world following the pope. A segment was devoted to how media in other countries — though not the U.S. — covered Francis' trip.

Foreigners have other TV programming choices in Holguín, including Univision Deportes, BeIn Sports, Discovery Channel and three Chinese state-run channels, in Mandarin, English and Spanish.

But what droned from homes with open windows and doors in the city Saturday night was Cuban television, echoing from one house to the next so a passerby wouldn’t miss any of it walking down the street.

“This has been a technical effort by Cuban television and Bolivarian television,” the special coverage said when it concluded — until the next day.

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