Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino

According to the CIA World Factbook 2004, among the slightly more than 11 million people who live on the island of Cuba (exclusive of the Guantanamo Bay population, that is), “nominally 85% [of them were] Roman Catholic prior to Castro assuming power”—though where the island’s Roman Catholic population has been hiding since Castro took power, the CIA appears at a loss to explain.

I raise this question about Cuba’s missing Roman Catholic millions—You don’t suppose that Castro locked them all up in his massive underground penal colony?—Or that Castro ships them around the world on a fleet of aging jetliners purchased from the Soviet Union under Khrushchev, from communist dictatorship to communist dictatorship, in an effort to keep one step ahead of the Human Rights Brigades?—for this reason: On February 25, the crack agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection corps at Miami International Airport actually found one, the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, no less, as he tried to sneak into the country.

As American television’s NBC Nightly News program describe the scene (March 4):

Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega, a hero to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and even on the list of possible successors to the pope. But this prince of the church, who carries a diplomatic passport from the Vatican, was pulled out of an immigration line by Homeland Security agents in Miami last week for fingerprinting and questioning before finally being let in.

Seems that the treatment doled out to the Cardinal was “brusque and discourteous.” Contrary to early reports, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba’s statement on the incident explained that “there was no type of reference made to the cardinal’s beliefs about the political situation in Cuba or in the United States.” Nor any kind of threat about a “deportation order.” (Here quoting the Miami Herald‘s coverage of the incident.)

Still. A major question remains why such a high-profile figure in Cuban national political life, a man who possesses a Vatican diplomatic passport and a U.S. Visa, and who has traveled back and forth between Havana and the States with regularity for years, would all of a sudden wind up on one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection corps’ watch lists?

Here’s NBC Nightly News‘s account of it (March 4):

ANDREA MITCHELL: Homeland Security says the State Department has decided the cardinal fits certain criteria that make him a threat to the safety and security of the United States. The State Department, in turn, blames Homeland Security.

MITCHELL: Homeland Security officials cite a post-9/11 law requiring questioning of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan, but Cuba is not on that list. But State Department officials say they’ve been told to question some Cubans, too. Still, why stop a cardinal of the Church?

Mr. PHILIP PETERS (Cuba Expert): He’s a 69-year-old man. He’s been here many times before. He’s held a US visa, and he’s held for three hours at the airport. It’s just–it’s just astounding.

MITCHELL: The real reason, say critics, is that the cardinal has opposed the administration’s recent crackdown on family visits between the US and Cuba. But after questions from NBC News, tonight, the State Department says it will investigate why Cuba’s most popular church leader is on a terror watch list.

Plausible enough.—Mary Murray, Mitchell’s colleague at NBC News, writes for the MSNBC website that “The incident, for Catholic activist Gabriel Coderch, is symptomatic of the strained relations across the Florida Straits. ‘The ultra-right in Miami is powerful and has no desire for dialogue, an idea that the archbishop of Havana has always defended’.”

Indeed. The ultra-right here. The ultra-right there. The ultra-right everywhere.

Which reminds me: Short of a very strict adherence to the concepts of state sovereignty and diplomatic immunity, how does it remain possible for the American President to travel abroad, as he did to several European capitals a couple of weeks ago, without being immediately arrested upon deplaning from Air Force One on suspicion of having launched a war of aggression over Iraq in March, 2003, among other Nuremberg-class crimes?

I mean, come on. If Cardinal Ortega fits certain criteria that make him a threat to the safety and security of the United States—and God only knows what these criteria may be, short of the Cardinal’s opposition to the American bombing of Havana—then doesn’t the American political leadership also fit certain criteria that make it a threat—not just to Cuba, but to international peace and security as well?

A Note From the Permanent Committee of Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, Havana, May 26, 2004

Daily Press Briefing,” Richard Boucher, U.S. Department of State, March 4, 2005

Cuba’s Roman Catholic cardinal charges rude treatment by U.S. immigration officials,” Anita Snow, Associated Press, March 3, 2005
U.S. Border Drama for Cuban Prelate,” Albor Ruiz, Daily News, March 3, 2005
Cuban cleric confirms Miami shakedown,” Mary Murray, MSNBC News, March 3, 2005
Cuban church: Prelate treated rudely at MIA,” Robert L. Steinback, Miami Herald, March 4, 2005
“Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega questioned at Miami airport as if he were a potential terrorist,” Andrea Mitchell, NBC Nightly News, March 4, 2005

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