Still a Long Way From Religious Freedom in Cuba

Saturday, June 20, 2015
A Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post:

Still a long way from religious freedom in Cuba

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization that has been researching and advocating on concerns related to freedom of religion or belief in Cuba for years, welcomed the June 2 World article “Religion reawakens under Cuba’s thumb,” especially the attention given to the diversity of religious groups in Cuba and the restrictions they face.

While the religious panorama there is more complex than in other parts of Latin America, it is important to point out that the presence of Protestant denominations, or “evangelicals” as they are referred to in the article, is not new. The island is home to a strong, diverse and historic Protestant population. Many of these government-recognized denominations, including the Methodists mentioned, continue to report heavy government interference, not just regarding house churches, which proliferated largely because of government refusals to allow the construction of all but a handful of church buildings over the past 50 years, but also in regard to historic properties.

The Yaguajay Baptist Church, affiliated with the Western Baptist Convention, was informed in 2012 by the government of the retroactive “nationalization” of its property, supposedly in 1980. Just last month the Maranatha First Baptist Church in Holguin, affiliated with the Eastern Baptist Convention, was informed by Communist Party officials that the property on which the church has been sitting since 1947 now belongs to the government and that it will be obligated to pay rent and submit activities for approval. Also last month, a case was filed on behalf of the Rev. Yiorvis Bravo Denis with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the 2013 arbitrary expropriation by the government of his home, which also serves as a church affiliated with the Apostolic Movement network, which the government has refused to register.

On the other hand, while it is true that the Catholic Church has received some benefits not extended to other groups and linked to the rapprochement between Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the government, these benefits have not necessarily trickled down to the rank and file. Each week scores of women across the country, and some men, are violently arrested and detained to prevent them from attending Mass, and local priests and bishops are often forced to directly confront state security agents in an effort to preserve their churches as institutions that are open to all. The trends over the past few years seem to indicate that as religious groups flourish, a government that above all else seeks to exert social control over its population will continue to crack down behind the scenes even as it seeks to convince the outside world that it respects freedom of religion or belief.

Kiri Kankhwende, London
The writer is press officer of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.