In a letter to the young people of Cuba, the Pontiff said: "Economic embargoes ... are always deplorable because they hurt the most needy."
The letter was released at the end of a Mass, attended by 50,000 rather than the expected 150,000, in Camaguey, celebrated against a backdrop of palm trees and Soviet-style high-rise blocks. The Pope has long opposed all economic embargoes and has previously specifically criticised the 35-year-old US measure against Havana, aimed at forcing political change in the Communist island.
A Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said yesterday that the Pope would speak out clearly against the embargo again before the end of his five-day tour.
Speaking on the aircraft bringing him to Cuba on Wednesday, the Pope had said he wanted Washington to "change" the embargo. His words brought a swift response from the US government, which said it would not be eased until there was significant political change in Cuba.
The embargo was tightened in 1996 in response to the Cuban downing of two light aircraft piloted by exiles living in Miami. Four of the exiles, three of them US citizens, were killed in the incident, which Havana said occurred over its territory and which Washington says was in international airspace.
A bipartisan movement to lift or ease the embargo has been growing recently in Washington, forcing the US to reiterate that nothing will change without major concessions from President Fidel Castro.
The powerful Cuban exile community, based in Miami, also virulently opposes lifting the embargo.
Opponents of the sanctions, even those critical of the Castro government, say it has helped solidify his grip on power because it enables him to blame all the island's economic difficulties on the embargo instead of on shortcomings of his own policies.
- Reuters, CamagueyReuse content