Cuban bishops make big appeal for change

Cuban bishops appealed to the government for political reform and continued economic change Sunday in their most direct plea in decades.

The Cuban Bishops Conference made its request in a letter published on their website. It also asked for better ties with the United States, which has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba for more than 50 years.

Cuba under President Raul Castro has tinkered with pro-market economic change since he took over from his brother Fidel in 2006 to head the hemisphere's only communist country.

The bishops said: "As has been happening in the economic realm, we think it essential in our Cuban reality that our national legislation with regard to the political order be brought up to date."

The letter was entitled "Hope does not disappoint."

It urged dialogue aimed at "national reconciliation" and measures to let people achieve "self realization" and stem the flow of emigrants eager to leave Cuba, where the average salary is $20 a month.

Last year 46,000 people emigrated.

On ties with Washington, the bishops said: "In this context of international politics, it is necessary to consider Cuba's relations with the United States, which for decades, in different ways and in a constant and profound way, have affected the life of our people."

The letter marked the bishops' most direct appeal to the government since one published in 1993 at the height of an economic crisis here triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been Cuba's economic lifeline.

Under Raul Castro, the Catholic church has been the only organization that in effect negotiates with the Havana government.