Repression of Religious Minorities / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

The levels of intimidation and repression of religious freedom on the island are the highest since 1980, according to a report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, published in May 2012.

Their report documents a total of forty religious freedom violations in different regions of Cuba and compares them to those from previous years.

Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March 2012 caused a strong display of security which prevented defenders of human rights and pro-democracy activists, many of them practicing Catholics, from attending the events of the papal visit. Because of this, hundreds of Cubans were jailed or imprisoned in their own houses through police harassment.

The report highlights the case of people like the Lady in White Caridad Caballers, who was regularly prevented from attending religious services, especially Sunday mass. Her family has been the victim of verbal and physical abuse and, in spite of relying on the support of religious leaders in their community, some family members have not been able to make their first communion.

The report illustrates the pressure that the government exercises over some religious groups to expel leaders who are not in agreement with the regime.

Many congregations belonging to the Western Baptist Convention have been threatened with church closures and the confiscation of vehicles and other goods.

They mention the case of pastor Omar Gude Pérez, who was condemned to six and a half years in prison and was freed in 2001. He is prevented from leaving the country in spite of the fact that the United States has granted political asylum to him, his wife, and his children.

Marriage of religious groups works to disclose the persecution of the Apostolic Movement, a network of churches constantly attacked by the authorities.

The report highlights an increase in physical aggression against pastors, as well as the brutality used. The pattern repeats in every case: victims have been leaders of small denominations that don’t have a support network and are found in isolated places.

Local security agents are responsible for the beatings, but since they have never been investigated, it is suspected that they rely on the backing of the government.

Last week, Cuban religious leaders gave testimony before the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus in the United States and members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and prepared a petition to include Cuba on the list of Countries of Particular Concern in relation to religious freedoms, according to the Capitol Hill Cubans blog.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

June 25 2012