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?

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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.

What was the relationship between Fidel Castro and religious freedom/religious groups in Cuba? Read More

In Depth: The Process of Church Confiscations in Cuba

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.”

“In 2015 around 2,000 churches linked to the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination, the largest Protestant denomination in Cuba, were declared illegal by the government. 1,400 of these church buildings, many of which are house churches, are in the process of being expropriated by the government – despite the fact that the denomination has refused to sign the orders of confiscation. Although the government made verbal promises in early 2016 to the denominational leadership not to go ahead with the expropriation, neither the ORA nor the Ministry of Housing have made any effort to halt this process.”

No churches have yet been seized, as indeed the AoG World Missions has stated; however the process of expropriation is underway and the status of the churches has not officially been changed.

The legislation under which the AoG churches were declared illegal is Legal Decree 322. As CSW’s report states: “This legislation, which was announced on 5 September 2014 and came into effect on 5 January 2015, was supposedly established to regulate private properties and enforce zoning laws. However, it has been and is being used by government officials to seize church properties.”

The report also notes that government has failed to honour its verbal assurances to religious groups in the past: “The government has also failed to keep its promises to other churches and religious groups. The Maranatha Baptist Church, part of the Eastern Baptist Convention, was notified in December 2015 that the order for the confiscation of their church under Legal Decree 322 had been rescinded. They were informed that they would also be able to build a new church, as the current building is in poor condition and too small for their congregation of 800. However, the government has not followed through with the necessary permits for the new construction.”

In its report , CSW makes the following recommendations to the Cuban government:

  • Respond to increasing calls by many religious leaders and their congregations for better protection of FoRB, by abolishing the Office for Religious Affairs (ORA) and adopting legislation that facilitates the registration process and protects FoRB for all.
  • Reform Legal Decree 322 to ensure it cannot be used to arbitrarily expropriate property, including property belonging to religious associations.
  • Nullify the designation of 2,000 Assemblies of God churches across the country as illegal, halt the process of confiscating 1400 of those churches, and cease the demolitions of other church properties.

CSW stands with all religious groups in Cuba who are facing freedom of religion or belief violations.

The Courage of Cuba’s Ladies in White

Ladies in White

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.

Weekly crackdown on the right to worship

On Sunday 1 February 2015, a member of the group, Mayelin Pena Bullain, was detained, beaten, kicked in the chest by a security agent in Mayabeque province and then imprisoned for the duration of Mass.

Individual cases of this kind number in the thousands. Arbitrary detentions like this are a weekly occurrence and similar incidences of harassment, threat and violence against the women have also been documented. While many women are detained in prison cells or at police stations during Mass, others have been handcuffed and kept in hot cars in the sun for up to six hours. In many cases, following detention, women are dropped off in remote locations forcing them to find their way home.

From 19 to 22 September 2015, 116 members of the Ladies in White were arrested and detained across the country, presumably to stop them from travelling to attend the activities around Pope Francis’s visit to the country. His visit to Cuba and the associated religious activities were not exempt from the government’s attempts to separate members of independent civil society from bodies of faith.

These incidences are indicative of how the government has extensively sought to prevent Cubans from exercising their right to worship. The government is particularly concerned with separating those it views as political dissidents from communities of faith as part of a more general policy of social isolation.  In 2015, the scope of those who have been targeted in Saturday night and Sunday morning police sweeps expanded to include other individuals associated with independent civil society, including human rights and democracy activists. Each weekend the authorities either block targeted individuals in their homes or detain them without charges – sometimes violently.

An unprecedented spike in FoRB violations

The backdrop to the arrests and detentions of the Ladies in White is an unprecedented crackdown on the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba in 2015. During 2015, CSW recorded over 2,300 separate violations, some involving entire churches and others, in the case of arrests, dozens of victims. For the first time in four years, a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in prison for holding unauthorised religious services. It is a crackdown that continued through 2016 and into 2017.

In the weekly Sunday arrests, the majority of those targeted are Roman Catholic and members of the Ladies in White. Yet every week the Ladies in White peacefully defy the state by attending Mass knowing they may be harassed, beaten and arbitrarily detained.

Today we commend the Ladies in White’s persistent protest in the face of adversity and stand in solidarity with them in calling for the freedom of political prisoners in Cuba and for the freedom of all Cubans to assemble and worship without harassment or arrest.

By Claire Denman, CSW’s Public Affairs Officer

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.

Commenting on the findings, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW doesn’t use the word ‘unprecedented’ lightly to refer to violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba in 2015. Following an upward trend in violations in recent years, 2015 witnessed a spike as the authorities deployed ever more public and brutal tactics to target churches across the denominational spectrum, regardless of their legal status.”

“It is clear that despite promises of reform, the government is determined to maintain a tight grip on civil society, including churches. We commend the courage of religious groups who have spoken out publicly to denounce these violations and to call for the right to freedom of religion or belief to be upheld. We urge the international community to stand with them and to hold Cuba to account for these human rights violations,” he added.

Below is a digital illustration highlighting the crackdown on churches in Cuba.

Click here to read CSW’s report in full.