HAVANA — Raul Castro met behind closed doors with the Vatican's No. 2 official Tuesday, in his first encounter with a foreign dignitary as Cuba's president.
The talks with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict XVI's secretary of state, came two days after Castro succeeded his older brother Fidel to become the first new Cuban head of state in 49 years. Details of the talks were not immediately released.
Bertone, whose visit marked the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, said earlier Tuesday that the island's leaders had assured him they would allow some Roman Catholic broadcasts on state-controlled media.
"Authorities have promised me more openness in the print press and the radio — and in some exceptional cases, in television as well," he told the news agency of the Italian Bishops Conference, SIR. "We do hope for some openness, because nothing is impossible."
The timing of Bertone's weeklong trip, just after Fidel Castro announced his resignation, was a coincidence, officials said.
After John Paul's 1998 trip, Cuban authorities released a large number of prisoners, including 99 held for political crimes. On Tuesday, Bertone told SIR that in meetings with officials he did not ask "directly" for Cuba to release any political prisoners.
"It would look like interference," he was quoted as saying. "The church does not impose, but proposes."
The cardinal has called for improving often-strained relations between Cuba's government and the local Catholic Church, and reacted warmly to official invitations for Benedict to visit the island.