Critical forum may end with Cuban magazine changes


HAVANA (AP) — Launched as a bulletin for Catholic lay
people, Espacio Laical magazine became an unusually open and critical
forum for debate in Cuba, a rarity in a country where the state has
controlled all media for five decades.
Now, the sudden departure
of its two longtime editors may have endangered that status just as
Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church and the Communist-run country embark on
major changes.
First published in 2005, Espacio Laical’s
reflections on faith and daily life were augmented by articles about
politics, economics and society. The magazine became a must-read for
members of Cuba’s academic and intellectual elite — some of them the
very architects of President Raul Castro’s ongoing reforms, such as
allowing limited private enterprise and decentralizing state-run
Espacio Laical "gave room to opinions from different
points of view," said Cuban analyst and former diplomat Carlos
Alzugaray, who has worked with the magazine. "It is something that is
very needed today in Cuba, which is a public space for debate about the
nation’s problems."
But editors Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez
resigned in early May, later confirming they quit because the magazine’s
content was controversial in the ecclesiastical community. The
magazine’s director, Gustavo Andujar, said the editors left voluntarily.
four times a year with a press run of just 4,500, Espacio Laical also
has a website that is likely seen by few in a country where Internet
access is difficult and costly. Its footprint is much smaller than a
publications like the Communist Party newspaper Granma, published daily
and distributed to the masses across the island.
But its audience was influential, and its articles provoked debate.
July 2013, Espacio Laical published a supplement titled "Cuba Dreamed,
Cuba Possible, Cuba Future," outlining what the country should aspire
to, including freedom of expression, political association and private
economic rights.
University of Havana religious historian Enrique
Lopez Oliva said that surely set off alarms both within the Catholic
community, which is divided over how much the church should involve
itself in politics, and for government and party officials, who say Raul
Castro’s reforms do not contemplate change to Cuba’s single-party
"These points constitute a platform for a political
movement," Lopez Oliva said. "They must have caused a certain amount of
After the reforms began in earnest in 2010, Espacio
Laical published analyses by economists such as Omar Everleny Perez and
Pavel Vidal, who are associated with the government but have been
relatively outspoken in criticizing its programs. In one piece, they
said there were not enough approved free-market activities for half a
million laid-off state workers, and not enough white collar jobs for an
educated population.
Other contributing writers have included
academics, energy experts and sociologists both inside and outside of
Cuba. Espacio Laical also organized gatherings with diverse participants
including prominent Cuban exile businessman Carlos Saladriegas.
told The Associated Press in an email interview that some aspects of
Espacio Laical won’t change. But he also acknowledged there will be more
emphasis on topics like the arts, sciences and religious ethics, rather
than an overwhelming focus on economics and politics.
"It is not
desirable that other, very broad and important aspects of the cultural
life of the country and the world find comparatively little space," he
The changes at the magazine come as the church gets ready
for a major transition. Cardinal Jaime Ortega submitted his resignation
in 2011 as bishops customarily do upon turning 75. The Vatican has not
yet accepted it, but Ortega is widely assumed to be leaving soon.
were hostile between the Catholic Church and the officially atheist
state for decades after Cuba’s 1959 revolution. It was Ortega that
negotiated better ties, beginning the 1990s as Cuba removed references
to atheism in the constitution and Pope John Paul II visited in 1998.
successor will be named by Pope Francis, a Jesuit seen as a reformer
keen on social issues. Whoever takes his place as head of the Havana
Archdiocese will have to chart his own course between emphasizing
spiritual work and political involvement.
Catholic authorities
want further concessions such as more access to radio and TV airwaves,
the return of more church property and permission to begin some kind of
religious education — causes that could be helped by not antagonizing
the government.
The changes at the magazine, Lopez Oliva said, "could be a shift toward being more cautious in the
political arena."
said neither he nor Veiga would comment on Espacio Laical beyond their
initial statement. But in a hint of their post-magazine plans, he said
Monday in a follow-up email to the AP that they are launching a project
called "Cuba Possible" — a clear echo of the controversial 2013
supplement’s title.
Gonzalez did not say whether it will be a new publication, entail more seminars or even be affiliated
with the church.
involves a "platform that allows for the airing and channeling of
concerns and proposals from Cubans and foreigners that keep communion
with those principles," he wrote. "We hope that participants …
interact with Cuban civil society, diaspora groups and other entities
abroad, always through open and pluralistic dialogue that seeks

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