Published Sunday, August 4, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

Bishops' criticism riles Cuba

Roman Catholic order condemned plane downing

Herald Staff Writer

A letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba to the Cuban council of bishops reflects the irritation of the government at the criticism voiced openly by the island's Roman Catholic hierarchy.

A copy of the nine-page letter, delivered to the council in March, has been obtained by The Herald.

The letter, signed by Caridad Diego, chief of the party's Religious Affairs Department, is an official response to a statement made public March 12 by the bishops under the title A Call to Reconciliation and Peace.

The statement described the Feb. 24 downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuban jet fighters, and the death of four civilian pilots, as an ``unmeasured and violent response with shattering consequences.''

The bishops also deplored the government's ``refusal to authorize a [Feb. 24] meeting called by the various groups . . . that constitute Concilio Cubano,'' a dissident coalition.

At the time, Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina told reporters the government would look ``closely'' to see if the bishops' statement was ``in any way linked to the aggressive policy that United States imperialism is waging at present against Cuba.''

The Central Committee's letter accused the bishops of ``coinciding with the enemies of Cuba'' in their criticism of the downing of the civilian planes.

The bishops ignored the ``more than ample proof that our government has brought before the world to reveal the truth about the events,'' the letter said.

Three months later, the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization concluded that the planes were shot down over international waters.

The letter criticized the bishops for ``considering as Cubans those people of Cuban origin who live abroad,'' and rejected any reconciliation with ``those who plot terrorist acts against their native country.''

Among the alleged plotters, the letter singled out Cuban exiles Andres Nazario Sargen of Alpha 66, Carlos Alberto Montaner of the Cuban Liberal Union, Jorge Mas Canosa of the Cuban American National Foundation, activist Orlando Bosch and several former members of the government of President Fulgencio Batista.

``There is no possibility of reconciliation . . . with crime, with the denial of our nationality,'' the letter said. ``For someone to be considered a Cuban, it is not enough to display a birth certificate or to have been baptized at a Catholic church in Cuba,'' not if that person ``serves as instrument and chorus for the aggressive and increasingly virulent imperialist policies against our homeland.''

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1996 The Miami Herald.