23. Editorial Note

On February 28, the Episcopate of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba issued a public appeal to “all those militating in antagonistic camps to cease in their use of violence” and to work for the establishment of “a government of national unity capable of leading our homeland back to a political life of peace and normalcy”. On March 1 and March 3, President Batista, responding to the Episcopate’s appeal, released statements similarly calling for an end to the violence but avoiding any reference to the Episcopate’s call for a government of national unity. Translations of the Episcopate’s appeal and of Batista’s statements were enclosed with despatch 701 from Havana, March 6.

In this despatch, drafted by Topping, the Embassy analyzed the significance of the Episcopate’s appeal: [Page 44]

“The point of greatest interest in the Episcopate’s appeal is that calling for a ‘government of national unity’. Just what is meant is not clear from the statement. In attempts to clarify it, the Ambassador has spoken with the Papal Nuncio, and officers of the Embassy have spoken with other contacts including Julio Morales Gomez, a principal leader in the Catholic Action movement. The Nuncio is intimately acquainted with the background of the statement, and attended the meeting of the Catholic bishops at which the final version of the statement was approved. From those conversations it is apparent that the Catholic Church believes that the Government and the various opposition parties and groups, including the revolutionary movements, are at present so far apart that it is not possible to hold free elections. The Church believes that to correct that situation a “government of national unity” should be formed, which would include members of the various opposition parties in the Cabinet. The Church feels that representatives of Fidel Castro’s ’26th of July’ Movement should be included, or at a minimum that that Movement should approve of the new Government. Some sources have said that it would be necessary to appoint opposition or ‘non-political’ figures to top positions in various governmental agencies in addition to the Cabinet. They say that what they have in mind is something like a coalition government, to include representatives of all the opposing factions in the Cuban political scene as well as non-political forces such as the civic institutions. The Church representatives said that the statement of the Episcopate is intended as a ‘bridge of understanding’ between the various groups. They add that the Church is not prepared to act as mediator between those groups, but would lend its support to mediation efforts.

“On the key question of whether Batista could remain as President, and head the ‘national unity government’, the Church representatives hedge. They give the impression that the Church has reached no conclusion on that point, and feels that the answer would be developed during the period of mediation.

“The action of the Catholic Episcopate in issuing the statement appears to have been taken in response to two pressures. The first is a deep concern over the existing situation, characterized by continuing violence and bloodshed. The Church feels that the opposing forces are in an impasse, with neither able to overcome the other and unwilling to compromise. The other pressure has been engendered within the Church itself, and is a combination of strongly anti-Government and pro-revolutionary feelings among Church figures, plus a drift to an anti-Government position on the part of a large number of parochial priests, who are the Church group most intimately aware of the toll of the continuing violence in terms of human suffering and tragedy and of the rising tide of hatred”.

The Embassy believed that the appeal was “neither anti-Government nor anti-Batista except in the sense that it indicates that the government is unable to handle the existing situation and should make concessions”. Nevertheless, the government was “obviously unhappy over it, feeling that it weakens their position”. On the other hand, the revolutionary opposition claimed that the appeal represented “outright support for them, which of course it is not”. A number of Catholic lay organizations, civic groups, and the Cuban Confederation [Page 45] of Labor endorsed the appeal, as did the outlawed and clandestine Cuban Communist party, the Popular Socialist Party. The Embassy concluded:

“The statement of the Catholic Episcopate has aroused great interest. It is a serious and considered effort by the Church to attempt to arrange a peaceful solution of the present tense and violent situation in Cuba. It is a grave step for the Church to take, since it injects the Church into the political situation. It also poses a delicate problem for the Government, which apparently hopes to respond to the appeal sympathetically without surrendering control and without forming a ‘government of national unity’. A negative or hostile response by the Government could well cause the Church to become oppositionist”. (Department of State, Central Files, 837.413/3–658)