Cuba’s Catholics create capitalist culture

The Catholic Church may not be a strong force in challenging the Castro regime in Cuba, but it is increasingly serving as an incubator of capitalism and enterpreneuralism, writes Tim Padgett in the Jesuit magazine America (April 25). The Catholic Church has made a strong comeback in Cuban society since Pope John Paul first visited the country back in 1998. But because the “church still does not have the popular support to challenge the Castro regime on a political level, it has carved out a niche in the economic sphere. It is vying with Communism by teaching Cubans capitalism,” Padgett writes. The church is playing this role with the blessing of Cuba’s president, Raul Castro, who realizes that the Cuban Marxist apparatus is ill-equipped to instruct people in the art of businesses start-ups. More than half a million Cubans are self-employed business owners, and many are trained in leadership classes by church projects such as Cuba Emprende, which offers courses in various aspects of small business entrepreneurship.

Such classes also involve classes in business ethics, which even non-Catholics value for injecting a moral framework into the daily economic struggle, Padgett writes. This growing acceptance doesn’t mean that Catholic business programs find approval from the all or most of the Communist leaders. In 2011, when the church partnered with a Spanish university to offer MBA degrees, the program was shut down two years later because its popularity was troubling to the government. Still, the church projects see the momentum going their way. President Obama’s project to normalize relations with Cuba and influence democratic change depends on these new kinds of dissidents “whose economic independence undermines communist control. During his recent Havana visit, he patronized one such privately owned restaurant and “gave a shout-out to Cuba Emprende in his speech on Monday of Holy Week.”