Cuba’s referendum on 25 September is about far more than gay marriage

On 25 September Cubans will go to the polls to vote in a popular referendum on a new Family Code, which, if approved, will become law. Media coverage, in and outside of Cuba, including in the UK and US press, has presented the referendum as a vote on gay marriage. The truth is that the proposed family code runs over 100 pages; only a handful of the 474 articles are relevant to LGBTQ+ rights.

Presenting it as a referendum on gay rights is not only incorrect but also dangerous. It allows the Cuban government to obscure some of the highly problematic aspects of the code, which have the potential to violate the fundamental rights of all Cubans and would give the authorities another, and very effective, way of silencing independent or critical voices.   

Most worrying is Article 191 which would allow for the removal of children if their parents fail to fulfil a list of responsibilities detailed in Article 138. These include the duties to instill in their children love for the homeland, respect of its symbols, and respect for the authorities (Article 138 (ñ)).

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“I want to be a good man” – an interview with David Rosales, son of Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo 

CSW spoke with David Rosales, son of Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, pastor of the independent church Monte de Sión in Palma Soriano, who today is serving a seven-year prison sentence in the Boniato Maximum Security Prison in Santiago de Cuba. 

The religious leader was accused in December 2021 of public disorder, criminal incitement, disrespect and assault, after he and his son David participated in the national protests on 11 July 2021. The Cuban regime, using false information and witnesses, accused Lorenzo and David of responsibility for wounds suffered by ‘seven public order agents and one civil servant who was taking care of the institution. At the same time, they damaged the state bus, which was parked where the acts took place.” 

On 17 July 2021 David Rosales was released under precautionary bail because of his participation in the protests. This measure was modified, and David was exonerated from criminal proceedings after a fine, paid on 19 August 2021, was imposed.  

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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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