14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 August 2016 – Everyone in the Versalles neighborhood in the city of Camagüey knows Bernardo de Quesada Salomon. Loquacious, restless and the founder of the Apostolic Movement, he has experienced intense months this year, especially January 8th, when the police entered his home and demolished the structure in the backyard that served as a center of worship.
Quesada opened his doors to this newspaper to talk about how he became an adored pastor to his neighbors and malefactor to State Security. On the slab behind his house, where until recently the temple stood, he now meets every Sunday with his congregation under the intense August sun. None of them have stopped coming in the last months, despite the campaign against the leader of the church which continues to rage every day.
The Christian movement he is a part of separated from the Cuban Council of Churches in 2003, but Quesada had devoted himself to religion since much earlier, in 1984, a year after he began studying Biology, for which he received his degree just as the Berlin Wall was falling in Europe.
Now, while showing the place where he sang and improvised sermons, he recalls that when he was working as a high school teacher “every time I taught some of the subjects such as evolution, embryology, anatomy, physiology and genetics, I ended up seeing the hand of God.” His faith began to clash with the education authorities.
“In 1991 I felt there was little left for me in the education system. I was working then in Vladimir Ilich Lenin University in Las Tunas, where I taugh microbiology and botany to students in agricultural engineering,” he says. Quesada was named to various positions at the national level in his Church, a situation that strained the atmosphere in his job.
Cuba was currently in the midst of the Special Period and the island was suffering economic hardship and despair. Thousands of former atheists began to embrace religion and Protestant movements grew everywhere.
In September 1991, he was called in by the university leadership, who evaluated him with “a kind of judgment looking at all factors, the party, the union, youth” he recalls. They accused him of speaking about God to students and teachers, although he remained in his post until April 1992 when he was expelled. Among the complainants was an employee there who now “works in Radio Marti in Miami,” he said derisively. “Beware of extremism and extremists” he says in a passage in his book, In The Eye Of The Hurricane.
When he cut his ties with his state position, Bernardo began to consider himself “a free man” and began “preaching in different churches in Cuba.” He came to be an “itinerant evangelist” which brought him to very poor places like Macareño, in Santa Cruz del Sur. In those places he found thousands of followers who attributed to him even physical healings.
Quesada believes that the shepherds of the people with the greatest problems should not even go to Havana, much less, emigrate to another country. “People avoid talking to me about an illegal exit,” he explains, talking about the issue of the thousands of rafters who each year cross the sea from the Cuban coast to try to reach the United States. “I tell them it is going to divide the family, like the medical missions abroad have done,” he says.
He reiterates, stressing each syllable, that it is “against Cubans to leave Cuba. We must change our nation ourselves and fleeing only numbs the problem more,” he says.
His critics within the system have validated the animosity of the authorities. “In Cuba there is no Law of Associations. No one can register an organization to give it legal status,” he denounces in his writings. With regards to the dissidents on the island, he believes that “expressing their rights, going out into the street to demand justice” should not be classified as “a counterrevolutionary action like they want to make people think.”
He has been accused of being a CIA agent, a provocateur, and even a madman, but Bernardo seems to know how to deal with the insult. “When they throw the stones of defamation, don’t toss them away: use them to keep building your platform for further growth,” he preaches.
The road ahead is very difficult, he thinks, but he is confident that a “genuine church” will be an “important factor in the future.”
“The Cuban nation is wounded, it bears a great social wound, but it will laugh again,” he predicts with conviction, smiling in the same courtyard where eight months ago the police thought they had dismantled his place of worship.