FoRB on the Frontlines: “Everyone’s hatred was ever present”

In several Latin American countries, religious leaders often take on the roles of community leader and human rights defender. As a result, these leaders often face harassment, intimidation and even violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Over the past few weeks CSW has been presenting interviews with religious leaders working in the region to highlight their experiences on the frontlines of freedom of religion or belief.

Yilber is a Protestant pastor based in Cuba.

“I have received so many threats in my life as a Christian that there are, honestly, too many to count. This is something I want to describe, and to do this I won’t rely on generalisations or abstract, subjective examples, I will expose the scars borne by my family ever since we left our town to do pastoral work.

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FoRB on the Frontlines: Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre

Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre is a Cuban religious freedom defender who was arbitrarily detained on Friday 12 July by state security agents after leaving the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana where he had been documenting violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). He spent a week in detention, the first four days of which he was completely incommunicado and unable to make or receive contact from family or friends.

On 19 July Ricardo was released. In this interview he details his experience, and explains why he will continue to stand up for FoRB in Cuba despite his recent imprisonment.

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“The work of defenders of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba is a long road which includes disappointments (when victims refuse to report their experiences) and government repression, as political police persecute, attack, harass, and imprison those who try to uphold human rights. But the sincere gratitude of those who see their cases resolved, and the profound conviction that God supports every step we take, bringing hope, like sheep surrounded by wolves (Matthew 10:16) is what can be found at the end of this road.

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FoRB on the Frontlines: Fighting for freedom as long as it’s necessary

The Ladies in White are a Cuban peaceful protest movement comprising the wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. Last year CSW interviewed their leader, Berta Soler, about her experiences, and the challenges facing Cuba:

“My activism really got started in 2003 when the government took [imprisoned] 75 men and one woman just because they defended the Declaration of Human Rights.

I and the other Ladies in White are women who are prepared, very well prepared, and aware that we are in a struggle for the freedom of political prisoners and for respect for human rights in my country. And we, the Ladies in White and I, are very conscious that in my country we need freedom and rights, especially for the men and women who are in prison just for demanding this and promoting and defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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The time capsule: Reflections from Cuba

CSW’s Latin America Advocacy Officer reflects on the island where things are supposed to changing politically, but in many ways stay the same.

Visitor numbers are soaring, with over 2 million tourists arriving in Cuba each year.  And why wouldn’t they be? Historic Havana, churches, cigar factories, vintage cars, live music, art galleries and museums, UNESCO heritage sites, beautiful beaches and the warm climate all make for the perfect holiday destination.

Cuba, a land where you can experience the past, in the present. When people think of Cuba, isn’t this what comes to mind?

But much of the world remains unaware that travelling off the  beaten path leaves a bittersweet taste in the mouth. In a country with some of the most hospitable and generous people you will ever meet, you will also find that many live on less than $2 a day – and for a number of reasons, the exact figure of those living in poverty is hard to ascertain.

Outside the capital most people cannot afford the comfortable luxury of a Chevrolet and many get around by horse and carriage or ‘cogiendo botella’; in other words, they hitch a ride with whoever is passing by. And whilst a horse and carriage may make for a true Cuban experience and a good photo opportunity, it is also symbolic of a time warp that isn’t so positive for its citizens.

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Update: The Status of 2,000 AoG Churches Threatened with Confiscation in Cuba

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.

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