Madrid, Saturday, July 27, 2019
“He was equal in his judgments and knew perfectly well the lights and shadows of his country, but that did not prevent him from ignoring the pressures and condemning […] the consequences of the […] embargo and […] blocking […] “.
Today I get the sad news of Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s death. Cuba and its Catholic Church have lost one of their most important personalities.
I met Cardinal Ortega in Valencia in 2006, on the occasion of the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. I immediately realized that I was faced with an exceptional personality. His natural sympathy was amplified by a permanent and sincere smile that framed his soft tone of voice that conveyed, with his slight Cuban accent, a clear will for dialogue and understanding. In that first conversation a special harmony arose between the two and since then we knew how to work a long and intense relationship of trust and friendship. Since then there had been no visit to Havana without a meeting, lunch or dinner, with the cardinal and in the same sense there was no visit to Madrid of the cardinal without us seeing each other in his residence of the Sisters of The Love of God.
In a revolutionary and communist Cuba, the relationship between the Cuban authorities and the Catholic Church was never easy and quiet. In this turbulent context, the cardinal was able to earn the respect and understanding of Fidel Castro himself and later those of his brother Raúl Castro.
There were difficult moments, ideological pulses but in the end the cardinal always managed to find in the head of the Cuban state a reaction of support and understanding. The cardinal told me that this was always due to dialogue and mutual respect.
It should be remembered that during his time as Archbishop of Havana he managed to organize three papal visits. All of them hugely significant, from the historic arrival of John Paul II on the island and his famous phrase “Cuba must be opened to the world and the world open to Cuba”, through the visit of Benedict XVI to the last of Pope Francis after the successful mediation between the United States and Cuba by the Catholic Church.
These visits are only milestones of the multiple actions that his Eminence made discreetly, but effectively to improve the internal and external situation of his country.
Cardinal Ortega was a great patriot, felt and lived his “Cubanity” with pride and courage, and always responded with acuity to the not always fair criticisms directed at his country and his regime.
He was equal in his trials and knew perfectly well the lights and shadows of his country, but that did not prevent him from ignoring the pressures and condemning the consequences that his people suffered because of the embargo and the situation of blockade exercised for so many years by his northern neighbor.
Therefore, he always tried to eliminate this situation. Hence his efforts as a mediator to finally reach the historic agreement between President Obama and President Raul Castro. He told me all the secret steps taken to achieve such a goal. We worked together to advance this diplomatic achievement, but its role was undoubtedly the ultimate, thanks to the support, vision and direction, of His Holiness Francis.
Many have been the shared complicities in resolving crises and problems that arose in relations between our two countries and between Cuba and Europe. His advice, his insistence that dialogue was and is the only means of moving things forward and achieving results, were final in helping to shape our diplomatic action towards Cuba. That was the case, when together we achieved the release of more than a hundred Cuban prisoners on July 7, 2010. His speech was final and President Castro’s response was positive.
We kept our contact, even after I left my responsibility as Foreign Minister. In fact, he proposed that he support him in creating a foundation with his name, Fundación Cardenal Jaime Ortega, to accompany sociocultural actions in Cuba, in favor of a Cuban youth eager to continue advancing in the reform process initiated by his authorities.
Dialogue was his conviction, strength and determination, along with his great personal and spiritual ethics.
Cardinal Ortega has been part of the history of this great country, a friend of Spain, Cuba, from today.
Dude, rest in peace.
Miguel Angel Moratinos (Madrid, 1950), Spanish politician and diplomat, was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain from 2004 to 2010, and former representative of the European Union for the Arab-Israeli peace process between 1996 and 2003.