Stella, who arrived in Cuba in mid-January and will remain there until February 10, remembered the figures of Father Félix Varela and José Martí, who are considered national heroes in Cuba, and emphasized the need for understanding among Cubans.
Asked by journalists about the possibility that the Catholic Church could intervene to have Cuban authorities grant amnesty to people imprisoned during the 2021 protests, the first in decades on the island, Stella said he would talk to the pope about the issue before traveling to Cuba.
“The Church wants, seeks, has manifested this proposal (amnesty),” said Stella. “I think the issue is on the table… The Pope is very keen to see a positive response, whether it be amnesty or clemency, the words may be secondary, but it is important that the young people who at some point once they have expressed their thoughts… they can go back to their homes.”
About 1,300 people were arrested following the protests, according to non-governmental groups. Some demonstrations turned violent, including looting and rioting, and one person was killed. Authorities reported about 700 sentences had been handed down in connection with the protests, with sentences ranging from a fine and community service to 30 years in prison for sedition.
The protests took place amid a severe economic crisis, shortages and blackouts. Human rights groups and some governments, including Washington, have sharply criticized the island for what they perceived as Cubans’ repression of free demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Havana claims it did not suppress opponents, but only punished illegal activities such as rioting, vandalism and sedition.
The Catholic Church has political influence in Cuba and has successfully interceded for the liberation of government opponents on previous occasions.
In 2010, thanks to the mediation of the Catholic Church and the Spanish government, a group of opponents imprisoned since 2003 was released and some chose to leave the country.
The Cuban government accused Florida-based anti-Castro groups of promoting rioting during the 2021 protests through social networks amid a complex economic situation caused by the paralysis during the pandemic and the increase in US sanctions during the government of the then-President Donald Trump.