Four Years Without Justice / Mario Lleonart

Juan Wilfredo Soto García, “The Student,” October 13, 2010

May 5th was the fourth anniversary of the brutal beating of activist Juan Wilfredo Soto García, which resulted in his death two days later. It was followed bythe deaths of noted leaders Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, in which many also acknowledge the presence of the criminal hand. The effectiveness of extrajudicial execution, verified in the case of Juan Wilfredo Soto and amply proven by other governments, is also beyond doubt in Cuba.

The regime that began with firing squads no longer needs them. The moratorium on the death penalty since 2003 is possible because those in power have perfected their method of eliminating political opponents, paying for it at the lowest possible price. North Korea, which “judicially” exterminates without ceremony, as demonstrated again a few days ago, should take lessons from its more sophisticated Cuban allies, the best students of Machiavelli. Continue reading

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, from Cuba / Mario Lleonart

Photo of the author

Although today [15 January] is a holiday only in the USA, I also in my own way celebrate it in Cuba. Why not join in the celebration of the birth of the Baptist pastor and fighter for civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr.? His life is inspirational for many of us, including me, who every day seek freedom and equality for human beings, all creatures of God.

 His existence is one of my answers to those who in Cuba who question why I combine theology with social activism. I have not invented anything new. It is the most natural thing to combine ideas and actions, and this was what happened in the life of the Reverend King. His sermons, his philosophy, his methodology, his strategy of nonviolent struggle, his life and his martyrdom are an example to follow in any dark corner of the world, and also in the illuminated places, to prevent anyone ever to darken them.

The last time that I mentioned his name to those who are responsible for repressing me in Cuba was on October 26, when I arrived from Poland, two agents from State security awaited me at the airport for questioning about my statements in the land of Lech Walesa and my subsequent activities and position in Cuba.

According to them my pastoral ministry should be confined to the four walls of a church to which they would gladly cloister me. My answer was that in addition to the unsurpassed example of Jesus Christ, I admired and tried to imitate, except for the distances, transcendental beings such as the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszco and the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

To which one of them, with the obvious threat that the same thing could happen to me, he riposted: What a coincidence, that all of them are martyrs!

Hopefully just like in August 1963, when he achieved that historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Cuba soon we will be able to realize something similar of our own in Havana, which, as the successful artist Tania Bruguera demonstrated in the recent events on December 30, so far remains forbidden to the people.

In the midst of our Cuban reality of continual violations civil rights, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of our luminaries.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

Spanish post
19 January 2015

The ‘Cabanuelas’ for Religious Freedom / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

:  Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

: Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, 16 January 2015 – Cuban peasants have a tradition that they carry out at the beginning of year. They observe the first twelve days of January and complete the observation – in a countdown – with the following twelve days until they get to the 24th day. They have the idea that what happened in the natural environment on those dates can yield some insight on how the year will be.

If it rains on the third day, that means for the men of the field that the same thing will occur in the third month. This way they get an idea of whether the year will be rainy or dry, if there will be hurricanes, much heat or if it will feel cold in the limited winter. The farming traditions call these days that the farmers think of as a preamble to the months of the year cabanuelas.

For those of us who form part of the religious sphere in Cuba, the last year ended with new perspectives on the relations with our counterparts in the United States. After the announcement by President Barack Obama last December 17, there have been more than a few citizens from that country who have been interested in how they might help us in the most effective way, given the opportunities that are opening up. Continue reading

The situation of religious liberty in Cuba / Mario Lleonart

The delegation from Instituto Patmos, invited by United for Human Rights to the celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During all of 2014 this blog, Cubano Confesante, I examined the best part of the thirty questions that doubt the supposed religious liberties in Cuba, which were launched in September of 2013 during the trip we took to Washington, invited by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

These analyses were the object of discussion in forums and workshops convened by the Instituto Patmos in various sites in Cuba, and at times also some of those posts were the fruit of these. This contributed to sharing these contents in an island where access to internet is difficult. Continue reading

Alan Gross, ‘The New York Times’ And The Spies / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

American Contractor Alan Gross

American Contractor Alan Gross

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 1 December 2014 — Last November 4, the White House reiterated that the case of citizen Alan Gross, prisoner in Cuba for bringing electronic equipment onto the Island, is not comparable to that of the Cuban spy members of the Wasp Network and that therefore there will be no exchange.

The reaffirmation invalidates the principal objective of the Havana regime in the kidnapping of Gross and took place amidst one of the intense campaigns by the so-called International Conference for the Liberty of the Five, which more than freedom for the prisoners has as its objective making noise and gaining followers from among the naïve of the world who may still be in favor of a Caribbean totalitarianism that approaches its 60th year.

Far and wide, the name of Gross has kept petitions moving that join the regime’s proposal that he should be exchanged for the spies. The Church World Service, for example, which since its beginning in 1948 has served the interests of the extreme left, made a three-day visit to Cuba at the beginning of November in which it made clear that Gross is only its excuse, and its objective: the liberation of the Cuban spies.

Among the saga of the editorials devoted to Cuba by the New York Times, which so far add up to six, the fourth, published at the very beginning of November, aligned with the proposal for exchange contrary to the reiterations by the American government. November, by the way, concludes with the visit by the editorial writer Ernesto Londono to Cuba, and with him, also, the spirit of each editorial arrives on the Island.

The support of the Church World Service for each propagandistic slogan Havana’s political agenda is to be expected, it has always been its trajectory. Never a statement in favor of the victims of the system, always in favor of the victimizer.

But the case of the New York Times has been different, because in its history we remember positions contrary to the dictatorial excesses on the Island, as occurred in the face of the so-called Black Spring of 2003. At that time, Fidel Castro’s “Reflections” did not report favorably on the positions taken by the New York Times, nor did we see the wholesale publication of New York Times editorials in the Communist Party Organ, but all to the contrary.

Like that article in Granma of April 24, 2003, under the signature of Arsenio Rodriguez, which Reinaldo Escobar of 14ymedio reminded us of, where he stated: “…its editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but they obediently comply with the defense orders of the dominant power interests of that nation,” to conclude: “…the true role of The New York Times (sic) was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”

On the other hand, the New York Times has never said that those who hold political power in Cuba are a good government, what it criticizes are positions historically maintained by the United States, which from its point of view have been ineffective in achieving the dismantlement of totalitarianism on the Island and for which it proposes another policy, one of rapprochement, which some call “the embrace of death.”

Even if I do not agree with the New York Times’ thesis, I do hope that after their present visit to the island, the new editorials that are published will correct a little their current direction. For example, in the case of the fourth editorial I have the hope that Londono will not only interview Gross himself in person, but that he will explore other possible resolutions for the case that worries him, that of the spies, more feasible for an exchange and that until now he has not considered: that of the exchange of other probable spies for spies.

This has to do with cases like that of Ernesto Borges Perez, accused of spying for the United States, now confined in the Combinado del Este Prison, in his 16th year of incarceration, the same amount of time as the three who are imprisoned in the United States accused of spying for Cuba.

Under accusations similar to those of Borges are found also Rolando Sorraz Trujillo, sentenced to 25 years since 1995; Claro Fernando Alonso Hernandez, sentenced to 30 years since 1996; the team of Ricardo Alarcon, ex-president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Miguel Alvarez, sentenced to 30 years, and Mercedes Arce, sentenced to 14; and Eusebio Conrado Hernandez Garcia, close to the ousted Carolos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque, sentenced to 20 years, which he is serving in the Guanajay prison.

It is obvious that the Cuban regime is not interested in packing off these prisoners who seem to be a high priority of general Raul Castro, but one would have to see his reaction if the United States government recognizes that the accusation under which Havana keeps in prison – with severe penalties – these Cubans were correct and were to take an even further step, weighing as more valid the option of exchanging for them the three Cuban spies in United States territory.

Maybe the New York Times, which likes to look for the fifth leg to the table, will redirect its proposal and expose this more comparable option. And that, of course, the exchange of spies for spies will be produced with the antecedent liberation of Alan Gross, who evidently did not spy for anyone and finds himself unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Translated by MLK

My Encounters With Popieluszko / Mario Lleonart

With my brother in Christ Dagoberto Valdes during the homages to Jerzy Popieluszko

In June of 2013 I travelled for the first time to Poland and made an inevitable visit to the tomb of the Polish martyr Jerzy Popieluszko. All the way from distant Cuba, Popieluszko for me embodied the logical challenge of faith in the face of a totalitarian system that is an enemy of God.

If in life Popieluszko more than fulfilled his pastoral duty of defending his fold against the wolf, in death he showed the world the utter impotence of a regime capable of resorting to assassination to silence a prophet, and clearly put in contrast the borders between good and evil in the Poland of 1984.

My return to Poland in October 2014 coincided with the 30th anniversary of the crime agains Popieluszko, and constituted a theological lesson on the implications of the martyrdom of the saints – in particular, the eschatological truth of the Resurrection and the Christian hope that celebrates as ever-living those exceptional beings such as Popieluszko, even though their remains still rest in their tombs.

Here I am in the church with the sister and brother of Popieluszko

This time my pilgrimage was not in solitude in search of a site of mystical quietude, as in 2013. It was more like a grain of sand among compact multitudes who were expressing our admiration and remembrance of the good pastor who did not flee when he saw the wolf approaching. At the same time, we were celebrating the fruit of his sacrifice: democracy and liberty in today’s Poland.

Among the first changes evident after 1989, perhaps imperceptible among many enormous and transcendent transformations, was the inclusion (a happy initiative of Lech Walesa’s) of a chapel in no less than the symbolic Presidential Palace – which would have been inconceivable during the period of totalitarian misrule.

Expression of liberties gained constitutes proof that the physical death of the martyr Popieluszko, rather than rendering him invisible, immortalized him to his people and amplified the values and virtues that he preached and practiced in life.

A radiant sun on Sunday, October 19, provided an extraordinary setting — as if in respite from the harsh, quasi-wintry days of autumn — to thousands of Poles and hundreds of citizens from the world over gathered at the place that guards the remains of the martyr who awaits his resurrection.

It was the natural testimony of the celebration in heaven and on earth honoring the the life that Death did not cut short, an evangelical reaffirmation that there are some who kill physical bodies, but they cannot kill souls. Blessed Poland that has her Popieluszko as a sign that in her, the wolves could not — without pastoral resistance — attack the sheep, who in fact chased away the wolf that attacked their pastor.

Multitudes at the tributes to Popieluszko

Multitudes at the tributes to Popieluszko

Happy Poland for not accepting the lament (in other contexts a fitting one) in “Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan: “Oh the shepherd is asleep/ where the willows weep/ and the mountains are filled with lost sheep.” God willing that in any part of the world where, as in Cuba, wild beasts have their lair, there be pastors like Popieluszko capable of facing them down, true to their calling, even — were it necessary — unto the sacred privilege of martyrdom.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

29 October 2014

Lech Walesa: “Cubans need responsible leaders” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Lech Walesa during the conversation with Cuban activists, with his translator Tomasz Wodzyński

Lech Walesa during the conversation with Cuban activists, with his translator, with his translator Tomasz Wodzyński

The Nobel Peace Prize winner speaks with several Cuban activists on the situation of the island and the possibilities for democratic change

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Warsaw, 21 October 2014 — Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had an agreement that death annulled. The two would go to Havana when the democratic transition occurred to support the process of political and civic reconstruction in our country. The “Cuban change,” however, has been too long delayed and the Czech died before realizing his dream. The Solidarity leader, meanwhile, has only been able to have contact with the island through dissidents visiting Poland.

Yesterday, Monday, Walesa talked for more than two hours with a group of activists from diverse provinces and political leanings. It was if a piece of Cuba had arrived in the autumn cold of Wasaw. I share here with the readers of 14ymedio the first part of that conversation.

Lech Walesa: Tell me what can I do to help speed up the democratization process in your country. Am I likely to see a Free Cuba before I die?

Dagoberto Valdés. I have good news for you and a suggestion of how you can help. A significant and growing group within Cuban civil society has identified four points on which we agree and which are demands to the regime. It is a way of organizing ourselves, but not the only one. There are other agendas, but I will now read the four issues on which we converge: the release of political prisoners, the ending of political repression, ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights, and recognition of Cuban civil society as a legitimate interlocutor. You could collaborate with us to disseminate these and support them in international forums.

Lech Walesa: I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power,” because I think when the previous four are achieved it will be because the current system has been dismantled. If the rulers accept that agenda, that would mean that they would lose power immediately. So I think that they will never approve them, but in any event I support them.

I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power”

Yoani Sánchez: You wonder when you can visit a free Cuba, but for now what has happened is that a fragment of an already free Cuba has come here. A plural, diverse and growing group of Cubans, who behave as free beings, have come to Warsaw this week. Isn’t that hopeful? Continue reading

My Experience in Coral Park: The Church-Synagogue / Mario Lleonart

The temple of the First Baptist Church of Coral Park: “The Whale”

It was my Sunday of rest in the United States (July 20), on this voyage that I made, between July 9th and August 6th, leading a small delegation that included my wife and daughters, and four other brothers of our church in Cuba. It was my day to be seated to receive the Word.

The previous Sunday I preached in the Baptist church “Star of Bethlehem,”  in Hialeah; and in the nearly two weeks of the journey that remained, they hoped that I would preach to at least four more congregations: “Jesus Worship Center (www.iglesiadoral.org)” of Doral; the “First Hispanic Presbyterian Church” of Tampa; the “Christian House: JWC” of Kissimee; and the “Hispanic Baptist Church” of Naples. It was very opportune that this Sunday was included, because I had done so much speaking in the previous day that I had ended up literally without a voice.

The stained glass window of the Star of David

First Baptist Church of Coral Park is the congregation where brothers worship deeply and with great love for Cuba that today they wanted to dedicate to us their Sunday and their church. The same church in which pastored the well-remembered Rev. Jorge Comesañas whose name, unsurprisingly, was given to one of the neighboring streets, and especially to whom they arrived from their broken isle seeking healing for their wounds. Continue reading

Retired but Not Gone Away / Mario Lleonart

On Friday, November 22, we made another stop on our U.S. itinerary that we will never forget. At the invitation of the Fellowship of Hispanic Churches, we participated in a tribute paid to retired pastors. Honor to whom honor is due, or as the Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7: ̈ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you; Consider the result of their conduct, and imitate their faith.”

This special occasion took place in Gethsemane Baptist Church in Miami at 5298 NW 7th St. The meeting was full of fond feelings. The pastor of the local church Felipe Rodriguez, moderator of the radio program “Building Lives,” which airs daily from 7 – 8 p.m, on 1450 AM, who was in an evangelistic campaign in our church in Taguayabon in 1993 while serving as pastor in Regla, blessed everyone with a few inspired words from Galatians 1:6 – 2:5 from which he set out seven truths he learned from the honorable elders: the one called by God preaches the true gospel (1:6-7); is radical (1.8-10); has a divine message ( 1:11-12); is set apart by God’s grace (1:15); is prepared by God (1:17-18); preaches with his testimony (1:24); and identifies the false brethren and does not submit to them even for a moment (2:4-5).

My wife Yoaxis  and I had the blessing of greeting such worthy elders. To share the table with Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, who prefers to be known as “Tony” the son of “Cheo”, showed us that even if they are retired they have by no means gone away. Some of them we knew from Cuba, as in the case of those who were our pastors in my early childhood: Isabel and Esteban Estrada, as well as Dora and Leoncio Veguilla, who for years occupied the highest offices of our Association in Cuba.

I was moved to find there the widow of former Taguayabon pastor Obed Guzman, the moderator for many years of the “Baptist Hour” program in Miami that we listened to from Cuba. It was also very moving for us to to be embraced by the widow of the great Jorge Comezañas. One of the most beautiful moments was the wedding sendoff of Rafael Melian (Felo) and Miriam Sánchez Parodi, who will move to Jacksonville in January.

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

As a continuation of Friday, on Sunday morning I attended the first service of Northside Baptist Church Pastor Adalberto Cuellar, also retired, who baptized my parents and many other relatives in Cuba because he was pastor at our church in Taguayabon in the hardest times, just as they got up the nerve to put a stamp on our door between November 1963 and December 1964. In our area, the work of this man of God, who remained unwavering in difficult times, still survives.

Leaders like Pablo Miret, Andrés Olivares, Luis Estevez, and Nathaniel Vicens struggled and performed a work of genuine servants “washing the feet” of so many heroes and reaching the goal. I embrace them for the gracious invitation and thank them for the master’s class that was given to me that day, fantastic for my ministry in the midst of an aging country, in the most-aged province, and with the fate of lacking an entire generation of senior pastors who, like most of those present that day, had to leave Cuba in a choice that I do not judge, as a result of one of the greatest persecutions that we believers have suffered in the entire continent.

Translated by Tomás A.

25 November 2013

Confusion in the Americas on the Venezuelan Crisis / Manuel Cuesta Morua

HAVANA, Cuba. – The open crisis in Venezuela confuses all of Latin America and the Caribbean. It has an important economic component. Many of the small countries of the Caribbean basin, turned client-states, foresee the loss of the cheap oil prices Venezuela has been providing. This may be a small consideration for most, except for Cuba.

A shift should be easy to navigate for those barely viable and sparsely populated nations; no one knows why they changed a safer and more stable economic relation with the US, for a cheaper but clearly less reliable one with Venezuela. Surely, we know that strategic thinking is what the region lacks. To change oil and freedom, for oil and conditioning is a very strange move to secure independence.

However, the most important point of the Venezuelan crisis at the hemispheric level, is the one that connects the strategic possibility of a model of integration  that is trying to develop, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the awareness and commitment of its elite with the values of its institutions, the growing struggle of citizens for self-recognition and the political intelligence of the leaders in the region.

Amid the silence of ALBA, Evo Morales withdraws to a nationalist but not at all anti-capitalist economic model despite his extravagant and poorly articulated rhetoric. His advisers seem to have more influence on him than those of Rafael Correa, who does not know how to respond to the crisis of his own model and the consequences of his erratic policies; one day he wants to be reelected, another day he swears he does not want to be reelected only to appear later, in a seeming act of despair which says little about his seriousness, threatening to seek reelection where we all thought was about a Citizens’ Revolution.

Meanwhile, Cristina Fernández de Kichner cavorts even better, defending democracy from the left and right; stating her support is not for Maduro but for the democratic process itself, while at the same time saying that the protests, which are precisely part of that democratic process, are a “soft coup.”

Juan Manuel Santos, trapped between the left and right, tries to save his difficult relations with Venezuela; while talking with the FARC and Havana, he is also forced to point out the value of democratic institutions and the need for dialogue in the other side of Tachira, even if it means being humiliated by Maduro. Mujica barely knows what to say, invokes UNASUR, which has little to contribute. Meanwhile, Piñera, on his way out, takes care to remind us that this happens because in Latin America almost everyone is dedicated to blaming the foreigners of the north, not the south, instead of looking for problems in their own entrails.

At the beginning of the Venezuelan crisis, Michelle Bachelet had the strategic intelligence to recognize a constitutional crisis in the country and recommend a plebiscite. She has been the only one in this sea of confusion to show vision. Unlike Rouseff who forgets her past as a student victim of the Carioca repression, and in this dramatic moment, allows herself  to be lead exclusively by the economic interests of Brazil.

Nothing unusual in the pragmatic tradition of Brazil and a Lula with global ambitions, whom we all envisioned at the International Labour Organization battling for workers worldwide. He steps from being a union leader to President of Brazil and finally ends up a representative of Odebrecht, a transnational if there ever was one.  And, in Havana, he allows himself the luxury of pointing out that Maduro is a man of good intentions. Thank God.

There is total disorientation. Even rhetorical. Maduro blames the Yankees, expels its diplomats while asking to talk to Obama and naming a new ambassador in Washington, almost all at the same time and within the closed cycle of events. He had earlier threatened to use the full force of the army against civilians, precisely what all fascists do, while accusing them of being Nazi-facists and inviting them to a peace dialogue for which he has no resources in his political and verbal memory.

The OAS seems to be slipping by Insulza, this man has lost every opportunity to show some kind of leadership and allows himself the luxury of coming to Havana to be rebuffed by his hosts in the face of the OAS. This is however, the only organization that has established consolidated mechanisms with reference, tradition and experience, but which has to be invoked in Mexico by Obama, the enemy, to the silence of Peña Nieto, the new Mexican friend of Castro, the coldness of Canada and the indifference of the rest.

And the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)? A newly released political ghost that no one in their right mind will talk about for a long time, if it even has a future. Without mechanisms, institutions, political representation and experience, CELAC, of course missed the opportunity to proactively respond to events in Venezuela through the vigorous defense of the democratic basis on which its integrative effort was founded, a defense that the presidents who participated in this political rock should have made. Not wanting to speak, from CELAC, about democracy in Cuba, has left Latin America and the Caribbean unable to talk about democracy in Venezuela, invoking the help of the ghost.

If it had done this, the youth of this new integration effort would have compensated with a clear and visible commitment in the right direction, and now Maduro’s rhetoric would have more legitimacy to obtain clear and consistent backups, alienating Washington, whom he has foolishly wanted to approach, from the shores of Venezuela. CELAC in Havana did not do the best it could and anyway, its leaders had to jump over the old principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of other states they solemnly swore to respect: one way or another,  they have gotten into the internal affairs of Venezuela, now that many things are at stake. Starting with Havana, who has turned that country into a juicy backyard of oil, resources and XXI century essays. Until it dries up, if patriots there are unable to succeed.

No one really knows how to react in front of a crisis that once more puts in evidence the lack of leadership in Latin America: a leadership that, by the way, can only be reached by combining the values, interests and strategic vision of where the region wants to go. No wonder some elites, with some clarity, look to the Pacific where, as in the China syndrome, the United States appears once more. A region and a country that were not in the integrationist plans of Marti or Bolivar.

Cubanet, March 5, 2014,  

Translated by: Eleruss

Eric Metaxas’s “Bonhoeffer” / Mario Lleonart

By Mario Félix Lleonart

If the only benefit of my recent trip to the United States had been to find and bring back to Cuba with me the biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, it would have been worth it. As I’ve always declared, that martyr of the German church is an inspiration for my life, and thus for this “Confessing Cuban” blog.

During the recent days of detention and house arrest accompanying the shameful repressive crackdown (as we should always characterize it when mentioning the Second CELAC Summit in Havana), the work of Metaxas was my bedside book. A text like this, regardless of my circumstances, reaffirms my faith and my convictions of social justice emanating from the Bible.

In my recent reading (since several more are required) of chapter seven, “Bonhoeffer in America,” recounting the pastor’s nearly yearlong stay (1930-31) in that great country, I identified strongly because of my similar experience during the four months I just lived through. Continue reading