Yusleysi Gil Mauricio is a socio-cultural studies graduate. She became a Christian in 2010, and since then, she has been passionate about children’s ministry and worked as a children’s pastor for a few years.
She is the wife of Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, a journalist and defender of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba. Together they have two children, the eldest is 2 years old and their baby is 4 months old. CSW spoke with Yusleysi to hear her story and share her experience.
“I have had a fervent and committed faith since I converted to Christ in 2010. On 12 December 2012 I began to attend the Fuego y Dinámica International Apostolic Ministry (MAIFD) Church in Camagüey where I worked as a children’s pastor. The church is not registered by the government and [that’s when] the persecution began. From the beginning I had a very special experience with God and I never pulled away from Him again, but being a member of an unregistered church was hard for me.
It took a lot for me to overcome my fears because [everybody I knew] they spoke very badly of what happened inside the church. It was only after I could see from my own experience that we were not doing anything illegal, that I stopped being secretive about it.
Another challenge was explaining this to my family. They did not understand and they did not have any intentions to verify first hand that all the rumours were false. Many of our relatives became distanced themselves from us. Following the last demolition [of an affiliated church in Camagüey] that the government carried out, we had to close the house of prayer that we led because political police agents intimidated all the members.
As we resisted the pressure, those same agents made it their job to visit our neighbours in order to socially isolate us. I had to endure a lot of humiliation from my close family. It was a terrible time.
At first I was afraid that of [my husband] being a defender of different rights and expressing his opinion because the only opinion I had in this regard was conditioned by the lies that the government fabricates against human rights defenders.”
I thought the worst
On 12 July 2019, Ricardo was arbitrarily detained by state security agents after leaving the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana, where he had been documenting violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.
He spent a week in detention, during the first four days he was completely incommunicado and could not contact Yusleysi or other members of his family or his friends.
“The first time that he was arrested and he disappeared for days I thought the worst, I was desperate. It crossed my mind that they would make him disappear or murder him, because this is always a possibility. I thought not only of the consequences of having my husband in prison, but also that the government could take direct action against my family.
When he was released and he got home I unloaded all my fears on him because I was very distressed. But ever since the first arrest, I now feel more prepared for the repression that I had never experienced before. Now I feel more secure in God. International support in those moments is also a strong shield around us.”
How would I explain it to my children?
After his release, Ricardo has continued to defend freedom of religion or belief, for which he has experienced constant harassment and intimidation from the Cuban authorities. In November 2019 Ricardo was detained again for more than 24 hours.
Ricardo has expressed to CSW his concern that the Cuban government is trying to fabricate a criminal case against him.
“The second time he was arrested and he disappeared for days, this time I did know [what might happen] and was better prepared, and because of this I went with my little girl in my arms to the State Security unit to demand his freedom.
When he was released and he came home this time I greeted him like a hero and I shared in his joy at the support you [CSW] gave us.
If in the future their father were to be arrested again and held incommunicado for days, it would be difficult to explain it to my children. I would try to make them understand that their father is in prison for being faithful to God and defending the Church.
I agree that he must continue his work in defence of freedom of religion and belief even after the arrests and that he must continue developing this work because I have seen the fruit of my husband’s work and I feel God’s support for what he does.”
I dream of freedom
“One day, I would like to go back to pastoral ministry and working with children, but for now I am taking care of my own young children. I would also like to be able to have my own business that would allow me time for church work. Although right now I feel good because I can support my husband in his defence of FoRB.
I believe that greater visibility at the international level can function as a shield because I have seen how the attitude of the repressors changes when they see that there is international support. They fear public opinion and I think we can use this for our own safety.
I hope that God will make Cuba a free country, where human rights are respected and that indoctrination in schools stops, that as parents we can choose the education that we will give our children. I dream that my children can choose, their beliefs, their political affiliations and their professional vocation. Freedom, I dream of freedom.”