14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 26 June 2016 – Religious visas for foreign pastors invited to Christian events exist in all countries, but in Cuba they serve as a mechanism of repression and blackmail by the state, with the aim of silencing the voices that are raised against it within the Christian community.
When this kind of visa is requested, the Cuban government demands that the churches submit a detailed schedule of the places where the foreigners will be and where they will stay, from the time of their arrival in the country until their departure. If the itinerary includes any of the churches that express disagreement with state policies, then the request for entry into the country is denied.
In addition, the Cuban governments demands that the church councils submit all the data on the preachers involved before offering them a visa, and if they are found to be associated with any NGO in their countries of origin that does not sympathize with “the Cuban cause,” the request is denied. If everything for one pastor is “in order,” according to their preferences, but the event has also invited other pastors who dissent from the communist process, the visa will probably be denied. Faced with this stark reality, the Christian community has been forced to hide foreign pastors who are invited to preach at their events.
This generates persecution by the Department of Immigration and Aliens, which levies heavy fines on offending churches or pressures their guests to leave the conference venue. On many occasions we have seen police operations mounted to stop pastors, as if they were drug dealers, who manage to make it to our activities.
How can the Church hide these preachers? It requires a great deal of audacity. The basic thing is to omit the names in the conference programs that are made public, and to have the guests travel on a tourist visa (sometimes through a third country) and reach the island by way of an airport in another province.
When they enter with a tourist visa (at least in theory) they can move freely around the country. That means it is not illegal for them to be in one of our churches and, if found with microphone in hand, we can always claim that they are “witnessing” (a term in Christian speech that is similar to preaching) rather than lecturing. As a security measure, these preachings are not made public through audios or videos, in case they might appear on social networks and become incriminating evidence against us.
While this happens with pastors of all nationalities, most abused are the Americans, because they provide most of the financial support for our congregations. This support is not some “Machiavellian plan of the Empire.” The Cuban Evangelical Church has had its roots in American congregations since 1900, when they began sending evangelists to our country, who established what we know today.
By denying US religious pastors visas, the Cuban government “punishes” the rebellious churches twice, because not only do they prevent their members from listening to the words of the guest, but they also cut off all possible financial aid.
That this happens in our country is contrary to the Constitution, which states in Chapter 1 Article 8: “The State recognizes, respects and guarantees religious freedom. In the Republic of Cuba, religious institutions are separate from the state. The different beliefs and religions enjoy equal consideration.”
How much longer will we have to wait for our religious freedom to be recognized and guaranteed? And above all: What is the government waiting for to start respecting our rights?