14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 31 March 2017 – A report published by the Associated Press published last Monday, under the title “Far From the Dark Past, Evangelicals Growing in Cuba,” upset evangelical pastors with its open defense of the Cuban regime to the detriment of religious freedom.
The author, Andrea Rodríguez, cites one of the many examples of pastors imprisoned for their faith in the first decades of the Revolutionary Process, to compare it to the current situation and to refute the report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The London-based organization reported 2,380 violations of religious freedom in Cuba in 2016, among which were declaring 2,000 churches of the Assembly of God illegal, with 1,400 confiscations of properties. The report also denounced the persecution and imprisonment of parishioners, as well as the destruction of churches.
The reaction to the article, which has been circulating by e-mail between pastors and parishioners, lies in the fact that sources cited by the Associated Press journalist are close to the Cuban Government, so they have retained a number of “privileges” that should be inalienable rights for all Cubans.
Pastor Bernardo de Quesada of the Apostolic Movement believes that the report is “counterproductive” and “very loose with regards to the reality of religion in Cuba.”
The religious leader says, “Many of those who were interviewed did not speak truthfully and the journalist wrote it with marked apologies to the communist system.” He also claims that Rodríguez only included “a part” of his statements.
For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Coexistence Study Center and a well-known Catholic layman, “it is common” to confuse freedom of belief, freedom of worship and religious freedom but “they are not the same”
“When I was interviewed, I didn’t express the ideas that were written,” he adds.
For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the Coexistence Study Center and a well-known lay Catholic, “it is common” to confuse freedom of belief, freedom of worship and religious freedom, but clarifies “they are not the same.”
“In the first decades of the Revolution we were persecuted for the simple fact of believing, professing a religion was a crime. Today we have gained that space, but we were not given it by the goodwill of government leaders,” says Valdés.
He acknowledges that a majority of people can regularly attend their religious ceremonies without being persecuted, but asserts that religious freedom is much more than that. “When Lieutenant Colonel Osvaldo (head of State Security’s Technical Department of Investigations in the province of Pinar del Río) threatened me in his office, he said that I was crossing the line between Christianity and the counterrevolution with the Coexistence Study Center.”
Kiri Kankhwende, a spokesman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, accused the churches of not wanting to speak out because of government pressure.
The Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party is in charge of monitoring the religious. The organization holds periodic meetings with the main spiritual representatives of each municipality with the aim of avoiding possible disagreements.
“Once a dissident was attending my congregation and shortly afterwards a State Security agent came to threaten me with blocking my travel from the country if I was a member of the Church,” says a Pinar del Rio pastor on condition of anonymity.
“For those who do not travel, they pressure them with the illegality of their structures, because not even the legal churches have permission to build temples and we have to say that we are building houses even if inside we turn it into a hall to bring the church together,” he added.
Raúl Risco is a dissident lawyer who is not allowed to go to church to celebrate his faith
Raúl Risco is a dissident lawyer who is not allowed to go to church to celebrate his faith. “Many times I have been mistreated or expelled by pastors too fearful of losing government concessions,” in Pinar del Rio, where he resides, he says. Now, to avoid reprisals against him or the community, he practices his faith without attending the meetings of his congregation.
For Pastor Bernardo de Quesada the demolitions of Protestant temples have nothing to do with the supposed “illegality of the constructions” but with the impossibility of obtaining permits to build them. “Who will be more illegal, the church that is not legalized or the state that does not allow it?” asks the religious leader from Camagüey.
“We have experienced all kinds of repression, from threats to parishioners to their expulsion from their schools or jobs for attending our churches, to massive arrests and physical violence against those who were there on the day of the demolition of our temple,” says Dignora Marrero, who belongs to the same congregation. “That is our reality and not the one that the Government tries to present.”