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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Crackdown on the Cuban Church

CSW’s 2015 report on violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba detailed an unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum.

Figures compiled by CSW, which are not exhaustive but which serve as an indicator of the level of FoRB violations, reveal a tenfold increase – with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

Many incidents involved entire churches or, in the case of arrests, dozens of victims.

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