Vatican rips Cuba embargo

The Vatican on Friday condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba ahead of Pope Benedict’s trip there next week and said the pontiff was willing to meet Fidel Castro, Reuters reports.

“The Holy See believes that the embargo is something that makes the people suffer the consequences. It does not achieve the aim of the greater good,” Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi said.

The embargo, which marked its 50th anniversary last month and which Cubans call “the blockade,” is still the cornerstone of U.S. policy toward the Caribbean island 145 kilometres from Florida, although it has failed to meet its primary objective of undermining Castro’s communist government.

Cuba says the embargo has cost it nearly $1 trillion, a figure many experts consider inflated.

Lombardi would not be drawn on whether the Pope would specifically condemn the embargo, as the late Pope John Paul did several times during his historic trip to Cuba in 1998.

Cuba’s ambassador to the Vatican told Reuters last month Havana had not made any demands on Benedict to condemn the embargo but would welcome a new pronouncement if he decided to make it.

One unanswered question about the trip is whether the pope, who will be in Cuba from March 26-28, will meet 85-year-old Castro, who ruled Cuba for 49 years after leading its revolution before his brother succeeded him in 2008.

The 84-year-old German pope is only scheduled to meet Fidel Castro’s younger brother, President Raul Castro, 80, whose formal title is president of the Council of State and of the Council of Ministers.

“It is possible. It is not in the program … but obviously if he (Fidel Castro) desires to meet the Holy Father, the Holy Father will be available,” Lombardi said.

Raul Castro is due to welcome the Pope at Santiago de Cuba on March 26, hold talks with him in Havana on March 27, and see the pontiff off when he leaves Havana for Rome on March 28.

The ailing elder Castro now seldom appears in public, but occasionally privately meets visiting foreign leaders and writes columns about international affairs.

Cuban state media reported that Fidel Castro participated in a nine-hour meeting with writers and intellectuals last month.

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