This is an important development in light of the very cautious stance the Cuban church has long taken towards the government there:
Cuba's Roman Catholic church leadership in a letter to parishioners called on the communist-run country's leaders to "update" the political system to allow more freedom similar to liberalization undertaken in the economy.
The statement by the Cuban Bishops Conference, presented to the press on Monday and read in churches on Sunday, praised "incipient" reforms such as allowing small private businesses, more freedom to travel and buy personal property and the release of political prisoners, while at the same time urging a broader economic and political opening.
The Catholic church is one of the few non-governmental institutions in Cuba capable of reaching and mobilizing a large number of cititzens. It has managed to maintain its autonomy by keeping a fairly low political profile. But a well-timed shift towards a more assertive stance might bear fruit in a country that is desperate for change.
The bishops wisely coupled their statement with a reiteration of their longstanding opposition to the US embargo:
The bishops said that U.S. sanctions on Cuba and the more than half century of hostile relations between the two countries had "profoundly" affected Cubans' lives.
The letter quoted remarks by Pope John Paul II during a 1998 visit. "The forced isolation impacts the population indiscriminately ... The measures imposed from outside on the country are unjust and ethically unacceptable," the letter quoted the pope as stating.
While support for the Castro government in Cuba is extremely thin, almost no one on the island -- even among the most ardent opponents of the regime -- supports the embargo.