In January 2015, approximately 2,000 churches linked to the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination were declared illegal in Cuba under Legal Decree 322, putting them at risk of confiscation and, in some cases, demolition. CSW’s July 2017 report details a new development in the case.
In May 2017, the superintendent of the denomination was summoned to the Office for Religious Affairs (ORA), where government officials gave verbal assurances that the churches were no longer under threat of confiscation. While verbal assurances have been provided in the past have not been honoured, on this occasion a document was provided that officially rescinded the demolition order for one of the AoG churches.
At the same meeting, the superintendent received verbal promises from ORA officials that they would help legalise the churches that had been under threat. This is tentatively being considered a positive development, however it remains dependent on implementation.
It should be noted that while this appears to be good news, this meeting took place one week before the superintendent was due to attend a conference on international religious freedom held by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Washington D.C. The officials at the ORA were aware of this and encouraged the superintendent to say that ‘there are no religious freedom problems in Cuba’. Worryingly, this could signify that the verbal concessions made by the ORA were merely an effort to manipulate what the superintendent was going to say at the conference.
Since May, there have been no further developments in the situation of the AoG churches. While it is good that the government has not done anything to indicate that they are reneging on their promise not to confiscate them, there has been a frustrating lack of movement towards the promised legalisation of the churches.
In addition, recent months have seen no developments in the return of church properties that were confiscated during earlier periods of open persecution. This took place for over three decades after the 1958 revolution, before a 1992 constitutional amendment which changed the official state religion from atheist to secular. After this, persecution became more covert, but churches that had been previously targeted received no compensation.
At present, Legal Decree 322 is still in effect in Cuba. CSW’s July 2017 report therefore makes the following recommendations:
- Reform Legal Decree 322 to ensure it cannot be used to arbitrarily expropriate property, including property belonging to religious associations
- Return church properties confiscated by the government, including under Legal Decree 322
- Enact and implement legislation allowing for the legalisation of house churches, and for churches to purchase property or receive it as a donation transferred by the owner
CSW remains committed to the close monitoring of the situation to see if there are any changes, positive or otherwise, to the status of the AoG churches.