Following the departure of Pope Francis, the streets of eastern Holguín, Cuba, have been flooded with dozens of homeless people that residents say had “disappeared as if by magic” in the week before the Pope’s arrival.
Independent journalist Yusnaby Pérez has published a report from Holguín, where residents notes the city, typically home to a significant number of homeless beggars, was cleaned up for the Pope’s visit. Most of these homeless were taken away by state police, though there is no evidence of where they were hidden until the Pope left the country.
“It was strange to us that from one day to the next these poor people disappeared as if by magic,” Enrique Domínguez, a local resident, told Pérez. Residents there appear to be torn about the clean-up; some say it was “a shameful act of social cleansing,” while others are dismayed with the “invasion of homeless people” following the Pope’s goodbye.
The communist Cuban government also ordered the renovation of a number of storefronts and dilapidated buildings in Holguín, so as to make it appear cleaner.
Cuban civil rights and pro-democracy groups protested the “social cleansing” of cities the Pope intended to visit before he arrived. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation issued a statement on September 18 expressing “profound indignation before the operation of ‘social cleansing'” occurring in Holguín, Havana, and Santiago de Cuba, the easternmost regional capital on the island. The organization alleged that thousands of homeless people, the mentally ill, and beggars had been eradicated from the streets, with no indication of where the government had taken them.
Pope Francis has made it a pillar of his tenure at the Vatican to meet often with the poor of the nations he visits. In the United States, he declined an invitation to a luncheon with members of Congress in order to meet and eat with a group of homeless and impoverished people. In Cuba, however, he met instead with octogenarian former dictator Fidel Castro. Pope Francis visited Holguín, hundreds of miles from the western capital of Havana, in order to pray at the alter of the Virgin of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba.
The incident recalls a similar one before the arrival of Pope Francis in Manila, Philippines, where the Daily Mail found that the government had rounded up the city’s nearly 500 homeless children and hidden them in cages during the Pope’s visit. The Philippine government denied the report, alleging that the homeless who were removed from the streets to make way for the Pope were instead housed in a luxury resort, with all expenses paid by the government.