Guilty by Association: Increased Targeting of Family Members in Cuba

The Cuban government has a long-standing policy of targeting the children and other family members of church leaders and activists who it deems to be a problem; one of many tactics designed to ratchet up the pressure on them.

Religious leaders are increasingly standing up to government pressure and becoming bold in their efforts to defend religious freedom in the country, as the Cuban government’s Office for Religious Affairs (ORA) cracks down on unregistered religious groups and other groups that it perceives to be unsupportive of the government.

CSW’s latest report on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba reveals that the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016 failed to mark any significant improvements to FoRB in Cuba; instead, the arbitrary detention, harassment, restriction and surveillance of religious leaders and adherents has continued throughout the first half of 2017, as has the confiscation of church properties. In addition, several cases of family members of church leaders and activists singled out for harassment and discrimination have been brought to CSW’s attention in recent months.

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La vida en Cuba bajo los Castro

Se puede ver la traducción en ingles, aquí [For the English translation, click here]

Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso es un prominente pastor bautista y activista de los Derechos Humanos de Cuba. Queríamos escuchar a la perspectiva de un nacional cubano de la muerte reciente de Fidel Castro y los efectos potenciales que esto tendrá en la libertad de religión y conciencia en la isla.

 ¿Cuál es el significado simbólico para los cubanos de la muerte de Fidel Castro?

Desde hace muchos años el pueblo cubano programó su psicología de masas afirmando que nada cambiaría realmente en Cuba hasta la muerte de Fidel Castro. En este sentido se ha cumplido la meta de espera auto impuesta por el propio pueblo cubano. Fidel Castro trató durante todo el tiempo de su poder a Cuba como si fuese su propia finca particular. Revertir la herencia de miseria que en todos los sentidos este hombre llega a Cuba no será fácil. Cortar los lazos de sus familiares y cómplices será un gran desafío todavía. Pero todos sabemos que el plazo que el pueblo de Cuba ha terminado y que a partir de ahora comienza a destejerse la madeja. Con la muerte de Fidel Castro es como si la maldición se hubiese roto.

¿Cuál era la relación entre Fidel Castro y la libertad de religión/los grupos religiosos en Cuba?

Desde que Fidel Castro anunció a principio de los años ´60 su alianza con el imperio estalinista adoptó también su adversidad a todo lo que fuese religión. Aunque su propósito era hacer desaparecer de Cuba todo vestigio de religión, no lo logró. Fusilamientos, campos de concentración, cárcel, fueron algunas de las medidas extremas que su régimen adoptó en los primeros años de su opresión. Con la caída del muro de Berlín en 1989 y la caída del campo socialista Fidel Castro tuvo que cambiar su política de persecución abierta a cierta tolerancia. El cambio más relevante fue la reforma constitucional de 1992 que declaró que el Estado cubano pasaba de confesionalmente ateo, a laico. En este caso su política pasó de tratar de destruir a intentar manipular a la religión y a grupos religiosos. La mayor expresión de esto es la Oficina de Atención a los Asuntos Religiosos del Partido Comunista de Cuba, una entidad en la cúspide del poder político dedicada a decidir qué permitir y que derogar, de acuerdo a los intereses políticos de los castro, en materia religiosa.

LEE MÁS

Life in Cuba under the Castros

This post has been edited for clarity. For the Spanish translation click here. [Se puede ver la traducción en español, aquí]

Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso is a prominent Cuban Baptist pastor and human rights activist from Cuba. In the following interview with CSW, he shares his perspective as a Cuban national, on the recent death of Fidel Castro and the potential impact this could have on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) on the island.

What is the symbolic significance for Cubans of the death of Fidel Castro?

Many years ago, the Cuban people collectively resolved to accept that nothing would really change until Fidel Castro died. In this sense, the objective which the Cuban people have themselves imposed, has been fulfilled; Fidel Castro treated Cuba throughout all of his time in power as if it was his own land. Undoing the legacy of destitution which this man brought to Cuba in every way will not be easy. To sever the ties of his relatives and accomplices will be an even bigger challenge. However, we all know that an era has ended for the Cuban people and that from now on, the string will begin to unravel. With the death of Fidel Castro, it is as if the curse has been broken.

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In Depth: The Process of Church Confiscations in Cuba

Update: In May 2017 CSW received further information on the status of the AoG churches. Please read the latest information here.


In August 2016, CSW’s latest report on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in Cuba detailed FoRB violations including the destruction of church property, arbitrary detention and harassment of religious leaders, and the demolition and confiscation of church buildings.

There has been some misreporting in the media about the situation concerning churches belonging to the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination, in particular the situation regarding 1,400 AoG churches that are in the process of being expropriated by the government; 100 of which are under threat of demolition.

As CSW’s report explains, between January and July 2016 there was a continuation of serious FoRB violations in Cuba: “In line with previous years, these religious freedom violations are predominantly carried out by Cuban government officials and the Office of Religious Affairs (the ORA), and take place in many regions throughout the island.”

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The Courage of Cuba’s Ladies in White

Every Sunday Cuba’s Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco, in Spanish) have been forcibly and often violently prevented from attending Sunday morning services. Every Sunday since the group was formed in 2003, the women attend (or at least attempt to attend) Sunday Mass dressed in white to symbolise peace and walk through the streets in silent protest afterwards.

The Ladies in White movement was formed in response to the Black Spring in 2003 – a mass crackdown by the Cuban government on dissidents and journalists. Since 2010, all of the Black Spring prisoners have now been released. However, political prisoners remain in Cuba and the Ladies in White, a movement largely comprised of wives and other female relatives of former and current political prisoners remain active.

As the world marks International Women’s Day on 8 March, CSW commends their courage and peaceful protest, which saw them awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005.

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