Cuban Zersetzung: The disruptive Stasi tactics employed by the Cuban government to disintegrate church life in Cuba

The Ministerium für Staatsicherheit, more commonly known as the Stasi, was the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), one of the most repressive and well-known secret police agencies in history.

From its foundation in February 1950, to the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989, the Stasi created a vast intelligence network, gathering information and targeting individuals and groups in every sphere of life with ruthless and insidious efficiency.

The Stasi employed several staple techniques in their attacks against individuals and communities. Persistent questioning, the spreading of slanderous information, repeated arrests, physical attacks and the targeting of family and friends as leverage were all commonplace. These techniques formed the basis of Zersetzung, a mission with the objective of disrupting or ‘disintegrating’ the structure and work of groups and the lives of individuals.

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Eight years in prison for Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, communicated to his family as an afterthought

Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo has two children. A son, David, aged 18, and a daughter, Lorena, aged 12. Over the past nine months, he has only been permitted to see them, and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo, in a few fleeting visits to the maximum-security prison where he is currently being held.  

As it stands, this will remain the reality for Pastor Lorenzo and his family for another eight years. He was sentenced in December, but the family only learned of the decision last week, in a communication sent by the Cuban government to the United Nations in response to a request for information regarding the pastor’s detention. 

The final paragraph of the communication reads, in Spanish, “The trial was held from 20-21 December 2021, during which the accused was convicted of the crimes of ‘public disorder’, ‘criminal incitement’, ‘disrespect’ and ‘assault’, and sentenced to eight years of deprivation of liberty. At the time of writing this response, [the authorities] are in the process of preparing the sentence for its subsequent notification of the parties.” 

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‘A new front’ in the pursuit of justice in Cuba

On the night of 28 February, Cuban police and State Security agents carried out a raid, capturing a man who they had been searching for 44 days. He was taken to an interrogation center and given an ultimatum: leave the country within the week or spend the next 30 years in a maximum-security prison. In early March, the man said good-bye to his wife and baby daughter and boarded a plane to Europe. Eighteen hours later, he submitted a formal request for asylum in Switzerland.

The man had committed no act of violence, nor had he stolen anything. He is a pastor. His only crime was to have extended his pastoral work to reach out to and pray with the families of political prisoners.

The Cuban government has long been fearful of any link between religious groups and political dissidents and has, for decades, gone to great effort to keep both as separate as possible. This is in part a general strategy to socially isolate all those it considers to be dissidents, including political activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists, in order to weaken and ultimately neutralise them. However, it is also, whether any of the Cuban Communist Party leadership would admit it or not, a recognition of the power in the combination of spirituality with the fight for justice and freedom.

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‘The Church was left without a place to worship’ – The story of Alain Toledano Valiente

‘We were evicted for the first time in 2007. The government came into our house [and] threw us out into the street – they took everything from us and threw it into the street. We were left homeless. At the same time, the government demolished our place of worship, Emanuel Church. They destroyed the floor and took it away. They left everything in ruins. They confiscated our land. This was the first violation of that scale. They demolished everything and took everything from us, our family possessions, music and audio equipment. Everything the church had was seized, all our technology was taken away. The church was left without land, its property and possessions, without a place to worship and we were left homeless in the street.’

Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente in an interview with CSW, September 2020

Less than ten years later, Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba was subjected to a second major attack. At 5am on Friday 5 February 2016, military, state security and police officers surrounded the property where the church was located and where the Toledano family was living. Pastor Toledano was abroad at the time, but his wife was taken into custody by government authorities and held incommunicado for the duration of the demolition from 5am to 7pm. Around 40 church members were also detained, and the church and home were demolished.

These incidents – the demolitions of November 2007 and February 2016 – are two dark threads in a disturbing tapestry of the Cuban authorities’ violations against Pastor Toledano, spanning over two decades. More than six years after that second major church demolition, attacks against Pastor Toledano, his church, and their right to a place of worship continue to escalate. 

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Living in exile: “I am not less than any other human. I just want to be heard and seen”

Ali* is an Iranian Christian convert who was reported to the police after some of those close to him discovered he had changed his religion. In 2015 he fled to Cuba via Armenia because it was the easiest place for him to get a visa as an Iranian.

Ali hoped to be resettled quickly in an anglophone country because of his fluency in English. He has been recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR and is in the resettlement process, but this has been slowed significantly because of political issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. CSW spoke with Ali who told us of his experiences of living in exile.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m a young Iranian Christian citizen who has been stuck in long and exhausting limbo against my will for more than half a decade in Cuba. I’m a refugee, away from all the loved ones and abandoned in a foreign land with no sense of ‘belonging.’ I’m a university graduate with an impressive background in sales and business management that has been achieved with dedication and hard work at international companies in my country.

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