Taguayabon, Cuba — The prolonged absence of staples in the “Hard Currency Collection Stores” [as the government itself named them] in Villa Clara, items such as bath soap and powdered and liquid detergent, increase the discomfort and the deplorable economic situation of the people in Cuba’s most central province.
According to one of the clerks at the hard currency exchange kiosk in the village of Taguayabon, a community that belongs to the municipality of Camajuaní, the absence of these important products for grooming and personal hygiene and the family are because of the lack of raw material which the government can produce them. According to her, they are distributed in small amounts from time to time to the various units and points of sale in the province.
Mrs. Aidé María, resident of the city of Camajuani who would not give her last name, said that when the detergent comes to the stores, the lines are enormous and many time they sell large packets of detergent that are very expensive and not everyone is able to buy them. What to say about deodorant in a country where the temperatures are very high and people sweat a log, but there is no deodorant.
Another product that is often scarce is vegetable oil, which is also missing right now from the network of hard currency shops and markets in Villa Clara province. What is sold as the “basic market basket” isn’t enough for the whole month and the quality is doubtful, so people have to have vegetable oil even if they have to invest 2.35 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), which is more than 50 Cuban pesos, one-third of the average monthly salary, or half a month’s pension.
Taguayabon, Cuba – I could have written a simple informative note about one of the many arrests carried out by Cuban State Security agencies during the days leading up to the CELAC Summit in Havana. But in this case I was both eyewitness and victim, and had to deal with the fact that my daughters saw it all.
On Saturday January 25, my husband, the Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart, and I, together with our daughters, Rocío, 13, and Rachel, 5, left our home in Taguayabón, intending to travel to the neighboring city of Remedios to spend a relaxing family afternoon. We were stopped by two State Security agents, dressed in civilian clothes, riding a small Suzuki motorcycle, who approached my husband and told him he was under arrest.
The situation became very tense a few minutes later when a National Revolutionary Police patrol car appeared, with a uniformed police officer and another civilian agent who joined the first two and pounced on Mario Félix as if he were a common criminal, handcuffing him and speeding him off toward Remedios, without telling me where they were going. Continue reading “Taguayabon: Village Pastor Abducted / Yoaxis Marcheco Suárez”
I often remember the lyrics of that song by Carlos Varela, hummed by many of my generation: “I had no Santa Claus, nor Christmas tree. . .” And I remember it not only as the popular song from that time in my life, but as the social reality that surrounded my adolescent years. I have always believed in the Biblical God and of course in the story of his Son who was born in the humble and almost forgotten village of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ.
Although I know that Santa Claus and the Christmas tree are not elements of that first and authentic Jewish Christmas, from childhood they were for me symbols of celebration and joy, like the little hats and the pinata that no child should miss on his birthday. But in those first years of my life, in Cuba, Christmas decorations and cuttings were strictly prohibited. It was a capital offense to turn on colored lights in public establishments, whether markets or any other entity, and whoever did it at home ran the risk of being frowned upon by Committee for the Defense of the Revolution neighbors and then that the chief of the block would not recommend them for university study or to get jobs.
Celebrating Christmas was synonymous with being a believer, and being a believer was indicative of being disaffected with the Government, unsuitable for the system, and also discussed by Marxists as: ignorant, incompetent, a person of numbed reason and low intelligence.
Still and all, in contrast with Carlos Varela, I was able to enjoy the emotion of those trees made of natural branches, that started green and ended the Christmas season totally dry, but always full of life, illuminated with dozens of incandescent, 60-watt bulbs, painted with vinyl paint and many times fixed, without being able to blink, because they did not give us resources for so much.
Between the leaves and at the base of the tree, big strips of white cotton simulated snow, and on the top an enormous star, made of cardboard and colored yellow, almost gold, imitated the bright star that shone on the happy night of the birth of the Messiah. There were no presents, they were times of many needs, although the more ingenious brothers did make little dolls of cloth, small Santas that we children could take home in order to daydream about the chubby little man who rode a sled pulled by reindeer and travelled throughout the world distributing gifts to well behaved children.
I remember the question that one of my childhood friends asked her mother on the occasion of the Day of the Kings: Santa does not see me behave well, why else does he forget my presents? I confess that I was incredulous with respect to Santa, although I have always enjoyed the Day of Kings remembering the gifts that the Magi from the East put at the feet of Jesus.
As a girl, it was impossible to believe in the little fat man in the sled, the presents conspicuous by their absence, but in spite of that it was good to see the lights shine on the tree in church and to hear the Christmas carols.
Today when the colored lamps and garlands adorn government agencies and stores, when having a little tree at home is not out of this world, when at least once a year the “militants” from the Council of Cuban Churches offer radio homilies, and televised Christmas concerts within the well controlled framework of official television, it seems that everything is smooth sailing in terms of State-church relations.
Those relations, which are not as smooth as they seem and let alone at at full sail, just let the wise understand that the current Cuban state saves the vinegar for churches and that a considerable number of these last just try to survive and readapt to the apparent coverage that is offered them.
In my own case I long for those dry branches filled with yellowish bulbs, but with churches truly healthy in spirit and centered on Christian love. Churches that were powerful in little and that gave valuable lessons in courage and dignity when they were voraciously attacked by the revolutionary government.
Still today the same political system of yesteryear prevails in Cuba, it conveniently tries to change its facade, and even go to the extreme of denying what history has left in the mind and memory of many Cuban believers from those fateful times.
But although Christmas has never been allowed to be celebrated in Cuba at any price for sincere believers committed to the faith, Carlos Varela and his famous song continue as a living and unquestionable testament to the not so distant past, when humming a Christmas carol, lighting a tree or putting out a nativity scene, was more objectionable than robbing a bank.
I don’t know what is happening with some people and institutions in the world, I think that they suffer from some sort of lethargy that doesn’t allow them to perceive Cuban reality, or they are simply content with what the antidemocratic government of the country informs and draws for them. The Cuban heartland is something else, very distant from the reports and statistics that the un-government offers to international opinion. The mere fact of seeing the nation submerged in bankruptcy and disequilibrium caused by more than 50 years under the same system, with leaders whose extreme self-sufficiency has led them to believe that they are immortal gods, almighty and non-substitutable, is already sufficient for the free world to understand that on the tiny Antilles island, democracy and freedom went out to the countryside one day and apparently cannot find their way back home.
I also can’t seem to explain the reason why the Cuban nation doesn’t take over the reins and liberate itself once and for all from everything that overwhelms it. We can clearly see, one only needs to have a bit of good vision, that the country will succumb, that its inhabitants are discontent with daily living, although, lamentably, the answer to this unhappiness is the high number of emigrants, suicides, alcoholics, delinquency, the low birth rate (which has resulted in an aging population), alienation and silence.
To speak of freedom in Cuba is almost painful, the most recurrent monosyllable is “No”. No freedom of expression. No freedom of the press. No freedom of political or party affiliation (in a one-party system). No freedom of ideas. No freedom of information. No freedom of meetings or membership. And there is a so-called “religious freedom” where the separation of Church and state only applies to the Church, because the state is constantly exerting its meddling dominion over the various denominations, associations, etc.: manipulating the ecclesiastic leadership, forever threatening, blackmailing, with airs of superiority. I truly do not know what they call separation of Church and state, when the former is supervised in every aspect by the latter: every step that is taken, every decision that is made.
The questions posed by Benedict XVI on his recent visit to the country continue to be unanswered. When will properties that were confiscated from the Churches in the early years of the Revolution be returned in their entirety? When will it be possible to build new church-affiliated educational institutions so that present and future generations of the faithful may be educated, not under the doctrines of Marxist-Leninism, but under the teachings of the Bible? When will religious institutions be allowed to have their own radio and television time-slots, have their periodical publications, presses, editorial houses and bookstores? Could it be that denying all this to the Church is not, in some good measure, the same as wounding its freedom?
Furthermore, it is important to point out that all of the elements that deny believers in Cuba of their genuine freedom should, if restored, be for everyone without distinction including, as Percy Francisco Alvarado Godoy would say in his post: “Another lie of Radio Marti…” to the “tiny and irrelevant congregations delegated to the Western Baptist Convention, as well as the Apostolic Movement,” the latter not legalized by the censoring filter of the Central Committee Register of Associations.
The great fallacy is (and, believe me, this is already more than “a quagmire of lies”) in stating that in Cuba its un-government (and I cite the aforementioned author): “has never tortured or persecuted religious pastors for their beliefs, independent of the size of their denominations, their isolation, or lack of a support group on a national or international level.” I believe the term “never” is too broad. Although, of course, the author to whom I am referring is following the steps of his maximum guide, the now historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, who had the shamelessness to declare in the interview “Fidel and Religion,” that in Cuba no place of worship had ever been shut down.
In the not too distant past –just barely the decade of the ’60s of the past century)– the dictators (by then staunch enemies of religion) created the UMAP* concentration camps, where hundreds of pastors and Church leaders were sent. Many places of worship were literally shut down, among them the Baptist Church Ebenezer of Taguayabón, of which I am a member.
The faithful were not worthy to attend the universities of the country, many would lose their jobs if they decided to remain steadfast to their faith. Places of worship were emptied giving way to the era of Communist ideology, with its atheist and materialistic nature, that in Fidel Castro’s version takes on the appearance of exterminator of the spirituality of a believing people, by their nature.
The current, much-trumpeted Cuban Constitution –all the while manipulated by the owners of everything within the island– claims in its article 8, to acknowledge and respect freedom of conscience and religion. They should, if they were honest, include a clause in this article: only if whoever professes these is a Revolutionary, practices “Fidelism” and has learned to abide by whatever is mandated to them on behalf of governmental entities.
The clause is implied, even when the article goes on to state that religious institutions are separate from the state. Article 55 states: that the state recognizes, respects and guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. It would be repetitive to explain this great lie: a country where whoever thinks differently –in ideology and politics– is incarcerated, arbitrarily detained, threatened, repudiated and always under the same defamatory pretext: that they are either paid by the empire or are mercenaries. In the atrocious egocentrism of the Castros and their “revolutionary” followers, differing minds do not fit. They fear plurality, like the fear that the tyrants have of those of true faith and firm convictions.
In any case and without understanding what happens to those who proclaim themselves free in the world, and with the Cuban nation so lacking its most basic rights, I carry on here within this stifled Cuba and in this “tiny and irrelevant Baptist Convention of Western Cuba”, for my fill of beautiful traditions and a deep history of more than one hundred years, with champions of the faith like Alberto J. Diaz, who was very close to José Martí and who collaborated in the pro-independence struggles against the Spanish colony; Luis Manuel Gonzalez Peña, who in the darkest hours of the faithful in Cuba told a civil servant, who predicted the end of the Churches in the country, that there would be Churches to last a while, and others. Believing in a Jesus, who does not commune with the powerful egocentrics of this world but with those below them –with “the immense minorities”– and who in the end was followed by many, to be abandoned later by the greater part of them, including His disciples, and who was also crucified by many and accepted by few.
*Unidades Militarias de Ayuda a la Producción: Military Units for Assistance to Production
I acknowledge that the Catholic Church through its pontificate has achieved in recent years some privileges that have benefited not only its faithful, but all Cuban Christians and the whole people in general. First by the actions of Pope John Paul II, who asked the government authorities to allow December 25th to be a holiday or festival, as this is one of the most important dates in Christianity marking the nativity or the birth of Christ. The request was granted and after decades of passing unnoticed by the Cuban society, a date that Western culture as a whole had adopted as its own, the 25th December became a day of rest for believers and nonbelievers in Cuba.
After many Christmases in the dark, under the explicit prohibitions of the Communist government and the metaphorical strafing of the Christmas tree and the legendary Santa Claus, “for being symbols of consumerism and the capitalist and bourgeois demagoguery,” to the point where Santa was almost declared the most bourgeois of all the bourgeois,they began to resume the festivities.
The trees now shine with their bundles of colorful garlands and lights, in public places, markets, and homes, and in the shops and especially in the places where things are sold in hard-currency, elevated in this time of hospitality, as if after having been silenced for so long, not even the government takes advantage of it from an economic standpoint.
Everyone enjoys themselves or at least tries to, although the vast majority lack the financial resources to buy anything at the super high prices in the hard currency markets, and many have to construct their trees from dry branches because it is impossible to acquire one.
But the good news is that Christmas came out of hiding in the temples and has been taken by assault by all Cubans. I suggest that it is important that the church take advantage of this to remind people over and over of the true meaning of this festival and its only star, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.
A new milestone achieved, again as part of a papal visit to Cuba, this time of Benedict XVI, who explicitly requested from the Cuban political hierarchies that they cede Good Friday as a holiday.
During Holy Week or the Passion we commemorate other relevant events of greater significance for Christianity, the death and resurrection of the Savior, two moments that mark our faith and that give us hope for the future, because the death of Jesus on the cross at cruel Golgotha has redeemed us from sin and guilt before God, and his resurrection, has given us once and for all, the victory over Satan and death by ensuring those who have placed their confidence in Christ, will experience after earthly death a future life which will last forever.
This Friday was the first Passion, at least since 1959, officially declared as a holiday and I think it has been welcomed by the majority, whether or not they are Catholics.
Although the national recognition of these two celebrations so important for the churches (Catholic or Protestant) is certainly an achievement there are still many others we have been unable to reclaim and that the Communist leaders do not seem very disposed to cede to us.
Pope Benedict XVI touched on points of great importance such as allowing the church to return to the radio (and why not TV), and its right to teach in its own schools, not just in theological seminaries for the formation of young leaders and spiritual guides, but also to offer our children a Christian education for the new generations of leaders who will arise.
As the Pope said, this is a right of the church, and I would argue not only of the Roman Catholic Church but of all other churches in Cuba. The teaching in public schools does not allow believers to share their ideas in the classroom, nor to publicly carry Bibles, nor evangelical literature or tracts.
Children and young Christians have only the space offered by the churches on Sundays for worship and Biblical studies to learn the Gospel and the ethics and norms that emanate from it, and of course the guidance offered by their family if it is Christian.
State education is marked by atheism and taught as a fundamental and almost obligatory ideology, the ideas of Marxism through the lens of Castro.
It is important to insist on the return of the former church schools where, in addition to science and letters the education was imparted based on the principals of our faith.
Hopefully this will be achieved in the not too distant future, and not only for Catholics, but in the same way that the papal influence has been effective on two occasions in recovering Christmas and Easter to the benefit of all.
The freeing up of spaces to teach our faith benefits all the believers in the country, without distinction, and the whole society in turn.
Note: This post is from March 2012, in advance of the Pope’s visit to Cuba
The topic most discussed these days with regard to the Cuban reality is the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The official press has made clear its predictions, of course favorable to the regime, and the head of the Roman Catholic Church comes as a guest, not only of the faithful, but also the government.
On the other hand, the internal and external opposition also speculates, and their hopes center on the coming of the Catholic leader to resolve, if not all, at least some of of the ills battering the country. The star of the expected visit has been somewhat lost in the moment when thirteen opponents occupying a Catholic church decided to stay, with the objective of bringing their demands and claims to Benedict XVI.
This event captured the attention of many and the occupiers received the support of some and the unfavorable criticism of others. In the end they failed in their intention because the church leadership sought the support of the “authorities” and they managed to remove the entrenched group of opponents from within the Basilica of Havana.
I do not want to speculate about an event that has not happened yet,but the trajectory so car gives us an idea about what the Papal visit will consist of. As an evangelical believer and as a Cuban, I don’t give much weight to what the Pope can resolve for us, as I don’t believe in his infallibility and in observing the Cuban Catholic Church I see that it has been colluding with the regime in a lamentable way.
I also think that Benedict XVI is not just a religious leader, he also carries the weight of a State on his shoulders, which he must govern, as he is also a political boss and greatly concerned with political issues.
In a scenario where we are building up, not dividing, the voices against the power of the Castros, this spiritual and political representative cannot hear those who dissent and cannot value their complaints and petitions for him to intercede for them before the Cuban rulers, making clear their disadvantageous position.
Perhaps this same future scenario, the Pope meeting with “his church” and his Cuban political peers, making the case to omit the dissidents is the mark that divides those thirteen people stationed in the Catholic church, thinking that the idea would carry their voices in some way to the visitor, especially because the Catholic church has adopted the position of mediator between dissidents and rulers on other occasions.
Although I am not a Catholic nor a member of any political party, I don’t judge the actions of these dissidents, their way of working solely to seek communication with the Pope in this peaceful way, so I think the dissident voices raised against this action, although within their rights, had to have done more damage to the opposition, than the attitude adopted by the thirteen or the general discord around the event.
When we refer to the Roman Catholic Church, we can not try to free it from political developments in any country where it is located, whether for good or or ill of the people, it has always been present in political scenarios, and we must be honest, not always in favor of the disadvantaged, but the powerful.
An example of this in the past it was Pope Pius XII, known as Hitler’s Pope, the latter said that his negotiations with Pius XII had created an atmosphere of deep trust between them, while the Pope trivialized the fascist formula.
There is no denying the heroic and worthy voices that have come from the bosom of this church, such as Monsignor Romero, true to the poor and dispossessed in our country and of Monsignor Pedro Claro Meurice Estiu, whose historical intervention marked the visit previous papal, that of John Paul II, to bring to light the true burden of the Cuban people place the blame for the misgovernment of the country in the right place.
Apparently the current Cuban church has signed some sort of concordat with the dictators, we are simply waiting to see what Benedict XVI does, but I repeat, with no high hopes.
Meanwhile and although I support the diversity and full democracy, the only ingredients needed in the formula for freedom, I think the opposition should show the world and Cubans the unity we all want for the future of the country, that unity that consolidates us as people and makes us strong, to be one in the midst of diversity is the greatest achievement that both those who live in exile and those of us on the Island can achieve.
The solution of our destiny is not in the hands of the Pope, but in our own, and it s in whom I have greater expectations and in God whom I do believe to be infallible.
Let us not judge one another, let us not adopt opinions or criticism that can then lead to unhealthy division or discrepancies. In the end, and I again clarify that this is my personal opinion, there is no differences between these thirteen opponents and other groups, although they use the space for Catholic churches to pray for freedom for political prisoners, it does not make them less political. The intention of these people was simply to be heard, but ultimately their efforts did not bear fruit.
Two separate power outages last week, one on Monday from early morning until well past noon and the other on Tuesday night occupying the afternoon, made me reflect again on the subject that was so fashionable a few years ago while the eldest in the hierarchy still ruled over us.
The Energy Revolution, which made many believe that all our problems regarding this situation would be resolved and as if by magic we could live a hundred percent on electricity with a minimum consumption of energy — an idea that could occur only to a madman in a country with deplorable economic conditions as ours — of course this madman misjudged the higher rates that customers should pay from the moment that, happy, content and and never grumbling, we began to use “modern and comfortable” electric burners, electric pots and electric heaters.
The kerosene, oil or bright light as it is variously called in the regions of the country, would be only for emergencies or disasters such as the feared and regular cyclones.
But the madman forgot to calculate that the appliances that had been sold did not possess the quality required for prolonged durability, much less eternal; and that on the island, given the critical conditions of the old power grids, which may well tell the story of Cuba since the rise of the Republic to date, energy demand can cause unexpected, untimely and frequent failures especially in this time of year where, despite the special summer schedule that takes advantage of more sunlight, the usual storms evening with rain and wind and lightening, cause damage to networks that could be resolved quickly or, as in the previous week, can take hours and hours affect the lunch hour or dinner at home.
Like those who set something aside for a rainy day, many housewives don’t dare risk the kerosene they’ve saved, thinking that the blackout will go on for just three or four hours, when the moment of truth arrives and entire days pass without electricity, so they have nothing to cook with, and no lights.
In my house, in particularly, we don’t have a stove that uses kerosene, so on repeated occasions we’ve seen ourselves “fried and placed in the sun” or with “the double blank” (as in dominos) — that is we can’t prepare our own food and have to go with our pots and supplies and ask our near neighbors for help who, I confess, have often helped us.
On the other hand, stoves and other domestic appliances are not always in the best condition, my stove, for example, has required considerable investment to fix the wiring. Once we were in a state of siege food-wise for more than a week, because they didn’t have the parts at the little shop in my village and my stove was on a waiting list nearly three hundred stoves long, which resulted in days we don’t even want to remember.
But let’s not talk only of homes and the constant daily odyssey of trying to put something on our plates, let’s think about the huge investment made in air conditioning offices, hard currency stores, medical centers and surgical rooms, and other state facilities, of good number of which can now function only in certain hours of the day or at night, or where the equipment simply sits on the wall deteriorating and losing its useful life.
Another example of the dementia and lack of economic wisdom of the “Fathers” of Cuban Socialism.
As I write this post, it has started to rain, as is typical of May evenings, or at least it should be, as distant thunder sounds and the heat becomes suffocating. But guess what just happened. Yes, it’s easy to guess, a few minutes ago the electricity cut out.
Will this be one more afternoon that we pass “with a double blank” or parading with our belongings through the neighborhood? I don’t know. Already my little girls’ heads covered in sweat, and the youngest crying out for the fan, is enough to remind me of the madman who once mentioned the false phrase “Cuban Energy Revolution,” who never suffers blackouts nor uses the “fragile piece of junk” he sold to the people to use in our humble kitchens.
This madman always tends to play with the same words, I’m sure that on pronouncing the term “Revolution” he laughed once again about his submissive subjects and in his mind he thought that if this illogical and mediocre plan failed, none of them would complain about it.
The truth is that we are drowning in this energy, economic, social, cultural, educational regression which many blind people still call the “Glorious Cuban Revolution”; and in the midst of this asphyxiation the people still continue mute in a lamentable way, although, in a whisper, they complain about the person or people who took their kerosene and replaced it with fragile electric stoves.
As roof the cloudless sky and an almost scorching sun, as walls the walls the Havana Malecon, the old buildings of old Havana, the Morro and the cloudy waters of the Bahia, a landscape that although worn, still looks beautiful. All this forms the temple of the Alcance Victoria (Victory Reach) Church which, more than a name, is an invitation of accept Christ who redeems us, who frees us from all burden of sin and anguish.
Organized some 10 years earlier and with a membership of more than 100 people, Victory Reach directs its evangelical work towards the young people of Havana, getting from the social waste many treasures that the currently corrupt Cuban society has covered in mud. Many transform their lives thanks to the determination of these brothers who carry the light of the Word of God to the darkest places of the sad and gloomy capital of the Cubans.
Some years ago the city authorities made an urgent call to the churches, seeking collaboration in the fight against delinquency, corruption and vice, evils that forcefully hit the younger population. Although this church responds to this call by its focus it so far has not received the support of the local or national government. They have incessantly sought from them a space to erect a church; the answer to their petitions has been a constant negative.
The very loving endeavor of pastor Abel Perez Hernandez, member of the Ministerial Department of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba and of those already reached who form the body of this growing church is going to go forward. They have decided to occupy the space that the governing humans want to deny them. If there are no walls, the city and its walls will continue serving as such, the sky will continue being its roof, whether it is clear or rainy, and the Morro will be witness to the beautiful glorification of the son of God.
I suggest that the Office of Attention to Religious Matters not further delay this simple step of designating a place for the construction of this temple; there are many sites in Havana on the edge of collapse; these brothers have the resources, material as well as human, to construct and so in passing improve the so deplorable urban aesthetic in so much of the city and which the government cannot undertake. By chance is there no freedom of worship and belief in Cuba?
Finally, I suggest to the governing body of our Convention to participate and support this church that works to win souls for the Kingdom of God, this church tirelessly petitions the authorities for their demands, nothing more just or right. It moved me to see so many little children under the sun and in the suffocating heat. Like their brothers, believers in the same God, we must show our solidarity. Victory Reach needs and deserves to have its temple, although this is not and is not going to be an impediment to them continuing to rescue treasures from the darkness.