FoRB on the Frontlines: Fighting for freedom as long as it‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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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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.

 ¬ŅCu√°l es el significado simb√≥lico para los cubanos de la muerte de Fidel Castro?

Desde hace muchos a√Īos el pueblo cubano program√≥ su psicolog√≠a de masas afirmando que nada cambiar√≠a 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 trat√≥ 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 ser√° f√°cil. Cortar los lazos de sus familiares y c√≥mplices ser√° un gran desaf√≠o todav√≠a. 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 maldici√≥n se hubiese roto.

¬ŅCu√°l era la relaci√≥n entre Fidel Castro y la libertad de religi√≥n/los grupos religiosos en Cuba?

Desde que Fidel Castro anunci√≥ a principio de los a√Īos ¬ī60 su alianza con el imperio estalinista adopt√≥ tambi√©n su adversidad a todo lo que fuese religi√≥n. Aunque su prop√≥sito era hacer desaparecer de Cuba todo vestigio de religi√≥n, no lo logr√≥. Fusilamientos, campos de concentraci√≥n, c√°rcel, fueron algunas de las medidas extremas que su r√©gimen adopt√≥ en los primeros a√Īos de su opresi√≥n. Con la ca√≠da del muro de Berl√≠n en 1989 y la ca√≠da del campo socialista Fidel Castro tuvo que cambiar su pol√≠tica de persecuci√≥n abierta a cierta tolerancia. El cambio m√°s relevante fue la reforma constitucional de 1992 que declar√≥ que el Estado cubano pasaba de confesionalmente ateo, a laico. En este caso su pol√≠tica pas√≥ de tratar de destruir a intentar manipular a la religi√≥n y a grupos religiosos. La mayor expresi√≥n de esto es la Oficina de Atenci√≥n a los Asuntos Religiosos del Partido Comunista de Cuba, una entidad en la c√ļspide del poder pol√≠tico dedicada a decidir qu√© permitir y que derogar, de acuerdo a los intereses pol√≠ticos de los castro, en materia religiosa.


Life in Cuba under the Castros

This post has been edited for clarity. For the Spanish translation click here. [Se puede ver la traducci√≥n en espa√Īol, aqu√≠]

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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