Must-Read: Thirty Questions for the Cuban Regime on Religious Freedom

Thursday, September 26, 2013
Cuban church leaders publish joint declaration on religious freedom 

Cuban religious leaders finished a visit to Washington, DC last week by publishing a joint declaration (see below) called “Thirty Questions for the Cuban Government”. Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, Missionary Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez and Apostle Omar Gude Perez drafted the statement and questions which they say show that freedom of religion or belief is not respected in Cuba.

The members of the group, who represent both a legally recognized, historic religious organisation and a newer religious movement considered by the Cuban government to be illegal, spent a week in Washington, DC in a visit facilitated by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). They met with policy makers and NGOs to brief them on continued violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba.

The declaration and questions outline the most pressing concerns raised by the group, including the government’s continued refusal to extend official recognition to newer religious groups, the approval or denial of legal rights to registered groups based on perceived political support and cooperation, and the sweeping authority over religious organisations and activities held by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The group pointed to mass arrests during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and new restrictions, including a decree that as of January 2014, churches and religious groups will no longer be able to hold individual bank accounts and existing accounts must be consolidated into one per denomination or organisation as proof that the government is not interested in true reforms that would protect freedom of religion or belief.

Missionary Marcheco, a blogger and professor at the Luis Manuel Gonzalez Peña Baptist Theological Seminary, also pointed to excessive government intrusiveness into the internal affairs of religious organisations, pointing out that the minutes and decisions of every internal meeting must be turned over for the approval of ORA. Apostle Gude Perez, a national leader of the fast growing charismatic church group the Apostolic Movement, expressed frustration at the continued harassment of churches affiliated with his group, supposedly because of their unregistered status, at the hands of the same officials who have denied their repeated attempts to register.

While the group was composed of Protestant leaders, they were keen to point out that other groups, including Catholics and Afro-Cuban religious groups suffer the same abuses, and held up the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example of a group that suffers particularly severe persecution.

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