Fidel and Vladimir Gundjaev

Why Is Fidel Hanging Out with Russian Orthodox Priests, Anyway?

The haggard remains of Fidel Castro made headlines earlier this month for meeting with a Russian Orthodox priest in Havana.

The story was newsworthy mostly because the meeting produced the first photo of the ailing Cuban dictator since early this summer. But a larger question remained: What the heck was Castro doing palling around with Russian Orthodox priests in the first place?

In Slate today, Christopher Hitchens offers one possibility: Castro has spent a lifetime proving his loyalty to Moscow politics, and now that Vladimir Putin has re-established the Orthodox church's role as a center of Russian power, Castro wants to show his fealty.

Still, it's pretty weird to hear Castro wants to build a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Havana. According to Hitchen's account, party members on a recent trip to the island were bitching left and right about the plan.

"What kind of way is this to waste money? We build a cathedral for a religion to which no Cuban belongs?" Hitchens reports one woman as asking. "A friend of mine asked me this morning: 'What next? A subsidy for the Amish?' "

-- Tim Elfrink

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