14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 11 January 2016 – The sun wasn’t even up when they heard the pounding on the door and the house became a chaos of police and demolition brigades. Amid the screams of the family’s children and the alarm of the faithful, the temple of the Fire and Dynamics evangelical movement in Camaguey was torn down, and its pastor, Bernado Quesada, was detained at the police station for hours.
On Monday, 14ymedio spoke by phone with the pastor about what happened last Friday and the current situation at his place of worship.
Escobar. Have you received a call from the Cuban Council of Churches to investigate what happened?
Quesada. To our knowledge, we have not received any calls. Furthermore, the Cuban Council of Churches has been completely divorced from our church.
Escobar. What is the situation now at the temple?
Quesada. It doesn’t exist, it was completely demolished. However, yesterday, we came to worship at the place where it had been. The turnout was massive, even people who hadn’t come to our church for days, came to show their support. The support has been widespread.
I stood under an almond tree and below its branches we held the services, we worship… however we can.
Escobar. Who flocks to the temple?
Quesada. People come from everywhere. We’ve only been here three years, since October 2012 and we have a congregation of over 500 people. Before coming here, I was pastor of the Fire and Dynamics Church in Macareño, Santa Cruz del Sur. I am also the founder of the apostolic reform in Cuba since 2013, when a group of pastors tired of hypocrisy and a form of “doing church” that was a little bogged down, too passive and attached to the existing system in Cuba.
So we began the apostolic reform on the island, which today has about 50 churches nationwide.
Escobar. What do you think prompted the authorities to demolish the temple?
Quesada. Everything that is independent or has nothing to do with the officialdom, they really hate it, they do not like it. We’ve spent years holding events at the national level, and they see this as a threat, because it is our churches – right now – that are growing the most, adding the greatest number of people.
Escobar. Is your church legally recognized?
Quesada. We want them to enroll us within the Law on Associations and Worship. We have asked repeatedly to be allowed to complete the process for legalizing our church, but even if there wasn’t a law of association, it is not possible. We have addressed the institutions orally and in writing, at all levels from national to municipal, we have also made claims, sent letters signed by dozens of people to demand we be recognized but they do not respond.
Escobar. But why did they deny you recognition?
Quesada. They said we were independent, we had nothing to do with the government. They accused us of being “a church paid by the CIA” and a few years ago they told us we were part of the “Bush plan” and we wanted to do a church in parallel to the existing one. All that, because we have not stopped stomping our feet and raising our voice.
Escobar. And is what they are saying true?
Quesada. It is a slander. So we’ve been punished. For example, we spent almost ten years unable to leave Cuba because they did not give us permission to travel. Since we founded our church until the so-called immigration and travel reform of 2013, several of us were not allowed to travel abroad.
Escobar. How are the relations of the church with the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party?
Quesada. Mrs. Caridad Diego, who heads the office, wants no part of us. For more than ten years we have not been invited to any activity or event.
Escobar. How do you plan to continue your work as a pastor now that you no longer have a temple?
Quesada. The temple is not a building. The temple is not a ceiling. The temple is its people.
Escobar. What do you think the authorities will do now?
Quesada. After they committed this madness, they are scared. There are still police patrols in some of the main streets leading to our temple. They are worried because they have very few arguments to explain why they did something like this.
Escobar. What were the reasons the Institute of Physical Planning gave to explain the demolition?
Quesada. They said it was built from materials that had been purchased illegally, but it is clear – knowing the monster – that were we were not going to make a mistake like that. Those were the rumors they put out there, for the fools. They also started to put out that “the pastor works for the CIA and has a car full of toys.” Nonsense, not arguments.
Escobar. Will you make a claim?
Quesada. No, we will not. We will not spend ink on that. It is fruitless. We have too much of God for such a little devil.