Cuban cardinal who helped improve relations with U.S. dies at 82

The office of the archbishop of Havana, said Cuban Cardinal, Jaime Ortega, died on Friday at the age of 82.

The cardinal, who played a key role in the thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States was reported to have suffered from cancer

Mr Ortega, who was the archbishop of Havana from 1981 to 2016, helped to stage secret negotiations between representatives of Cuba’s, then President Raul Castro and former U.S. president, Barack Obama.

The talks led to diplomatic relations being re-established and embassies being reopened in 2015 after decades of confrontation, though relations have cooled again under US President, Donald Trump.

Mr Ortega born in Jaguey Grande in the centre of the Caribbean island was ordained in 1964.

After three years, he was sent for several months to an agricultural labour camp created to ideologically reorient ate those critical of the country’s leftist revolution.

After becoming archbishop of Havana, Mr Ortega dedicated much of his career to improving relations between the Catholic Church and the communist government drawing more people to the church.

He instructed priests not to preach against the revolution in churches, obtained permission to open a new seminary in Havana.

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He launched religious publications and promoted the virgin of the city of El Cobre as Cuba’s patron saint.

Mr Ortega also helped to organise three papal visits to Cuba: John Paul II in 1998, Benedict XVI in 2012 and Francis in 2015.

The visits helped him obtain concessions such as mass pardons to prison inmates and declaring Christmas Day an official holiday.

Mr Ortega also acted as an intermediary between Raul Castro’s government and that of Spain’s then Premier, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who secured the release of dozens of Cuban political prisoners in 2010.

In 2011, the archbishop asked to retire because of his advanced age, but Pope Francis only accepted the request in 2016. Ortega was succeeded by Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez.

“As we think of Cardinal Jaime today with gratitude and joy, it is an encouragement for us to know that he will remain among us, accompanying us with the memory of his kind smile, his clairvoyant intelligence,’’ the archbishop’s office said.

(Dpa/NAN)

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