(original title: Castro interested in prisoner exchange with US, says Cardinal Bertone)
In an interview with the L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone reflected on his recent visit to Cuba and said dialogue between the Church and the State is necessary. He also said Raul Castro is willing to “exchange prisoners” with the United States.
Recounting his meeting with Cuba’s new president and with other officials, Cardinal Bertone said, “Discussions began initially with the exchange of impressions about Cuba and about the vitality of the Catholic Church. Later I met privately with the President face to face for 55 minutes. I presented him with a specific request and the new President responded positively.”
The Vatican Secretary of State said one issue addressed with the Cuban president “refers to the action of the bishops’ conference.” “The recognition of the Catholic Church’s legal status is one concrete problem that exists,” he stated.
Cardinal Bertone also revealed that he discussed the issue of political prisoners with the President. “I gave President Raul a list of names of prisoners for consideration [to be released] for humanitarian reasons, respecting always the sovereignty of Cuba,” the cardinal said, adding that he also expressed his concern for the families of those detained.
In response, Cardinal Bertone said, “the President emphasized the importance of reciprocity at the international level. He said he was willing to address all the problems with great openness and even to make concrete gestures in an atmosphere of reciprocity.” In that regard, Cardinal Bertone mentioned “the crucial problems of Cuba” related to the US-led embargo and the European Union sanctions, which “slow its development and do not allow for the serious socio-economic difficulties that afflict the island to be faced.”
The Vatican cardinal said President Castro also brought up the issue of five Cuban prisoners in the United States and their humanitarian treatment, “with the eventual possibility of an exchange.” He also stressed that since the embargo directly affects the inhabitants of Cuba, he “gave assurances that the Holy See would work to have these sanctions reduced, if not altogether eliminated.”
However, he emphasized that “this would certainly imply movement towards greater freedom, towards the recognition of personal, social, political and economic rights” by the Cuban government.
Cardinal Bertone summarized his visit to Cuba by saying, “The results have far surpassed the expectations in all that I have seen of the vitality of the Cuban Church in all of her components and initiatives.”