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Spanish post from Cubano Confesante by Mario Lleonart
Executive Summary: The different religious confessions in Cuba maintained a SUSTAINED GROWTH to the degree that 80% of the Cuban population professes some religious belief. The VISITS of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kiril of the Russian Orthodox Church were very significant. Despite these advances, the Office of Attention to Religious Affairs (OAAR) continued as a mechanism of TOTAL CONTROL of the religious sphere by the Cuban government. The Cuban Evangelical Alliance (AEC) coalition, inspired by the World Evangelical Alliance (AEM), has been BLOCKED by the OAAR. Law protecting religious freedoms in Cuba remain ABSENT from the legal landscape. NONE of the religious property confiscated in previous decades has been returned or indemnified. Five places of worship in eastern Cuba were assaulted and demolished. 2,000 churches buildings from the Assemblies of God denomination were declared illegal and 1,400 property confiscation processes were carried out. NO new religious organization(s) have been legalized, nor have those outlawed by the government been recognized again. Religious institutions continue to have NO ACCESS to the media nor permitted active participation to education, or other social actions. Some students and professors were EXPELLED from Cuban universities for religious reasons. Theological seminaries continued to operate, but WITHOUT ACCREDITATION by the Cuban educational system. For 117 Sundays, the Ladies in White, a women’s group, was prevented from attending religious services in the churches. Fraternal associations (lodges) receive similar treatment in Cuba to that of religious organizations and are also controlled through the OAAR. Groups and emblematic people have been subject to special harassment, some of which are unfairly imprisoned or face flawed judicial processes.
One of the objectives of the Patmos Institute is the specific monitoring and defense of religious liberties in Cuba. This first report addressed to the Human Rights Council of the UN in relation to the Universal Periodic Review is specifically focused on RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS reflected in Cuba between 2014 and 2017.
The different religious confessions in Cuba (legally recognized or not) between 2014 and 2017 maintained a sustained growth that led to the following estimates in 2017: of the total population of Cuba estimated at 11.5 million inhabitants, 35% is nominally Catholic; 30% professed of popular religions: that includes four main variants of Afro-Cuban religions and different types of spiritualism; 20% self-defined atheists, 10% evangelicals and a remaining 5% could be counted in communities that could include Jehovah’s Witnesses (banned since 1976 to the present) with around 100,000 members, Islam with 15,000 Muslims, Jews (the community with the lowest registered growth since its enormous emigration in the 1960s) with 1400 current members; of these smaller religious faith communities the last group to report their formal presence on the island was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) that on June 18, 2017 announced the creation of its first district with its 100 first members after mission for a decade.
Visits to Cuba by religious leaders such as Pope Francis in September 2015 or Patriarch Kiril of the Russian Orthodox Church in February 2016 were very significant during this period. By contrast, this serves to highlight the government’s refusal to give visas to many others, especially international evangelists who requested a visa with the support of several Cuban denominations, such as Marcos Witt, Luis Palau or Alberto Mottesi (Religious Visas have been denied 4 times).
8% of evangelicals, some 30 denominations, are affiliated with the Council of Churches of Cuba (CIC), which is endorsed by the World Council of Churches (WCC), but 80% of evangelical denominations are more sympathetic to the Worldwide Evangelical Alliance (AEM), who wishes to endorse and establish a legally recognized Cuban Evangelical Alliance (AEC) which already exists, albeit unofficially, yet the OAAR has invalidated any and all applications.
The OAAR not only makes every decision in Cuba in relation to religious matters responding to political interests, in addition to its internal control tasked with the support of Cuban embassies, and in the case of the UN through the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cuba before the United Nations Organization, sends delegations that are presented as guarantors of religious freedoms on the island when they are actually responsible for the exact opposite. An example of this was the representation of the OAAR that during May 2017 visited institutions in New York to which it misinformed or misrepresented their responsibilities in flagrant violation of religious freedom in Cuba. This delegation’s objective was probably to contact Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations (UN) Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Creed.
A Religious Freedom Act, requested by various institutions and religious leaders, continues to be absent from Cuban legislation. There are no signs that this reality will change if one takes into account the pending approval of a new Electoral Law (the current one dates back to 1992), although it was announced in the state press since the beginning of 2015 but has not be taken up in Parliament despite the elections announced before the end of 2017. A Religious Freedom Act has not even been announced.
None of the multiple religious properties confiscated during the years of open persecution was returned; nor did any of the affected organizations receive any compensation. An example is the land adjacent to the Baptist Church in Yaguajay (Quintín Banderas Street # 15, Yaguajay, Sancti Spiritus, 65100) where the Baptist College was located in the past. Despite the legal procedures undertaken by the Association of Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, which owns it, nothing was achieved. What did happen was that far from returning the land, the government of Cuba built offices there for some of its state-owned businesses ignoring all the exhausted resources of the religious denomination that is the legal owner.
Five properties belonging to religious groups in Eastern Cuba were demolished. In June 2014, “Estableciendo El Reino De Dios”, pastored by Marcos Antonio Perdomo Silva, in Santiago de Cuba; in January 2016, “Rey de Gloria” pastored by Juan Carlos Núñez, in Las Tunas; also in January 2016, “Fuego y Dinámica”, pastored by Bernardo de Quesada, in Camagüey; in February 2016, “Sendas de Justicia”, pastored by Alain Toledano Valiente, in Santiago de Cuba; and in March 2016, “Viento Recio”, pastored by Mario Travieso in Las Tunas. In addition, it was found that 2,000 churches or houses of worship belonging to the Assemblies of God denomination were declared illegal and 1,400 were confiscated, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Legal enrollment to the Registry of Associations of the MINJUS was not granted to any of the religious organizations that requested it, some of which have been waiting for decades. It is precisely these groups without recognition that report the largest number and diversity of complaints and violations of religious freedom resulting in legal limbo to which they are sentenced that leads to impunity. Religious organizations that had legal status in the past but were banned, especially in 1976, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Bereana Mission Baptist Church pastored by Daniel Josué Pérez Naranjo, continue to be in that same state in which they’ve remained for more than forty years.
Except for the twenty minutes allotted to the radio program El Evangelio en Marcha of CIC, which is broadcast exclusively every first Sunday of the month at 8:00 a.m. through CMBF Radio National Musical radio station, broadcast at 10:00 p.m., no other time-slots have been granted in any other radio or television medium, all of which are exclusive monopolies of the State.
Education is 100% state monopolized. No religious groups were permitted to open any training institutions on any teaching level including pre-school such as kindergarten. This constitutes a continuous violation to thousands of families who would prefer to send their children to other types of schools other than state-controlled schools with such extreme ideologies, highly politicized and often contrary to religious principles. It also constitutes a violation of religious organizations willing to contribute to Cuban society with educational institutions that would result in a great contribution to society. In the event that someone offers a religious educational alternative, they are met with retribution. An example of this has been Pastor Ramón Rigal of the Church of God in Christ who lives in Guantánamo. He obtained a license from an international Christian school to educate his children at home, the government response was the arrest of him and his wife Adya on February 21, 2017 accused of “acting against the normal development of a minor” and subsequently, On April 25 they were subjected to a trial without guarantees where Rigal was sentenced to one year in prison and his wife to one year of house arrest. As can be inferred, paragraph 3) of article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not respected nor applied to any national.
Cases of expulsions from universities for ideological, political and/or religious reasons occurred and increased in 2017. Such were the cases of professors Gustavo Pérez Silveiro (in 2015), Luis Alberto Pérez Castro (in 2016) and the brothers Dalila and Leonardo Rodríguez González (in 2017); All of them are banned from teaching at the “Marta Abreu” Central University in Las Villas for alleged links with our Patmos Institute. The same thing happened with relation to students as well as the case of Karla Pérez González who was prevented from continuing her studies in journalism for reasons of political discrimination at the “Marta Abreu” Central University of Las Villas (in 2017). The following cases can be cited, at least for religious reasons; that of Víctor Manuel López Sánchez, who was pursuing a career in Agronomy, also at the Central University ¨Marta Abreu¨ of Las Villas (in 2016); and of Felix Yuniel Llerena López who was prevented from continuing his studies in History at the “Enrique José Varona” University of Pedagogical Sciences of Havana (in 2017).
The Ministry of Higher Education (MES) has refused to recognize any biblical or theological seminaries in the country, and theological faculty are found nowhere in any university in the country. Many Cuban theological seminars are accredited by the Caribbean Evangelical Theological Association, articulated by the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education, but their requests for accreditation before the MES were repeatedly denied.
It is worth mentioning the repeated violation of the group known as Ladies in White, which is prevented from attending mass. This constituted one of the main religious violations, of a sustained nature, until the issuing date of this report, 117 Sundays of continuous repression. Some of the representatives of the group have been prevented from leaving Cuba on several occasions to participate in international forums for the purpose of denouncing these flagrant violations as happened for example on June 5, 2017 with Sayli Navarro Álvarez, who was prevented from boarding a plane to travel to Brussels where he would testify before the European Parliament, invited by the group Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
Religious repression in Cuba targets those who try to live their faith also in the political sphere, which continues to be a right of religious and an expression of the freedom of conscience of every citizen. This is the case of Pastor Joanna Colombie Grave de Peralta, graduated from the Evangelical Seminary of Theology (SET) of Matanzas. His decision to exercise leadership at the 1010 Academy of the Somos + movement as a result of a commitment to his own practical Christian faith was the cause of numerous arbitrary arrests. She was locked in a jail in the prison of Vivas for eight days (Friday, May 26 to Friday, June 2, 2017) at the end of which she was humiliatingly deported within her own country, from Havana to Camagüey, and threatened to be judicially accused of daring to return to the capital of the country. It is worth mentioning that this type of deportation from one province to another within the Cuban national territory is a very common method used against Cuban citizens.
The OAAR offers the same treatment that it grants religious institutions to other organizations of the civil society or of a fraternal nature such as the Masonic lodges, All fellows, Knights of the Light, etc. For example, the freemason Armando Antonio Pérez Pérez, leader of the MASONIC LODGE “Urania – Dr. Mortera” of Zulueta, province of Villa Clara; reports constant censorship and limitations to the work of his lodge and to those that work throughout the country. On July 22, 2017, this Masonic leader was arbitrarily detained and his home subjected to a search as a result of which copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and religious literature such as Convivencia and Nota del Cielo magazines were confiscated.
Highlighted also is the constant harassment of the Convivencia Studies Center, of Catholic inspiration is, and directed by the renowned layman Dagoberto Valdés. The members of Coexistence have been repeatedly summoned and threatened by military units. As part of this harassment Karina Gálvez was sentenced on September 21, 2017 by the Municipal Court of the city of Pinar del Río to three years of deprivation of liberty, and the confiscation of her home which was also the seat of Coexistence.
Highlighted also, is the incarceration case, since November 2016, of the Catholic layman Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), resident in Velasco, Holguín, sentenced to 3 years in prison. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience in February 2017.
According to the previous evidence, which is not exhaustive, like the rest of the Cuban civil rights, religious liberties continue to be subject to a varied number of violations. Perhaps the greatest evidence of all these violations is an evident and generalized fear that is perceived both in legally recognized groups as well as in those that are not. These are not isolated cases, as I recently suggested to the Associated Press (AP) Joel Ortega Dópico, CIC president according to a report by Andrea Rodríguez published on March 27, 2017 under the title Far from the dark past, evangelicals grow in Cuba, but it seems to be the norm in the Cuban religious panorama.
The organization that presents this report has not been exempt from direct harassment in retaliation for attempting to expose violations such as those reported. Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso, coordinator in the center of Cuba, also founder of the Institute, has been subject to pressures, detentions and threats; and arbitrarily extended to their children, teachers expelled from universities. Felix Yuniel Llerena López, coordinator in western Cuba, was subjected to intimidation and police threats as well as being expelled from the University. Yiorvis Bravo Denis who served as coordinator in eastern Cuba and whose property in Camagüey is threatened with confiscation and eviction since 2013, is currently in the process of requesting asylum in the United States. Raudel García Bringas, currently coordinator in Miami, accepted the Cuban Adjustment Act in the United States in 2016, after suffering three years in prison in Cuba. And the founders of the Institute, the missionary Yoaxis Marcheco Suárez and the Baptist pastor Mario Félix Lleonart, general coordinators, were welcomed by the US government. as Refugees due to the high degree of repression against them that includes arbitrary confiscations of their property and multiple detentions.
RECOMMENDATIONS: In order to harmonize laws, institutions and social practices with the demands of the International Human Rights Regulations, we recommend: – Open spaces for social participation that correspond in their own right to institutions and people of faith, including actions of social coverage and education. – Eliminate all differences, regulated or not, in the treatment given to religious people and institutions. – Legally and institutionally recognize conscientious objection. – Complete the return or compensation for properties confiscated from religious institutions in accordance with the provisions of article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
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