Cuba’ Prepares for Pope Francis Visit with Conflicting Actions Regarding Prisoners

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

The Cuban government has made plans to celebrate Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, September 19-22.[1] The government also has taken conflicting actions regarding prisoners. On September 11 the Cuban government announced that it would release 3,522 prisoners.[2] Two days later, on September 13, it detained about 50 predominantly Roman Catholic citizens whom the government regards as dissidents.[3]

Cuba’s Plans To Celebrate the Pope’s Visit

In anticipation of the visit, Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, published a lengthy and extraordinary article about the role of religion in Cuba. It started with the recognition that the visit will be “in the year of the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See, and the 100th anniversary of the request by the veterans of the Cuban War of Independence for Our Lady of Charity to be declared Patron Saint of Cuba,”

“As Cubans we are conscious, whether religious or not, of the fact that the Pope will be welcomed by a combative, noble and united people, accustomed to rising above difficulties and walking tall, despite having been subjected to a brutal economic, commercial and financial blockade for over five decades, and having confronted the limitations resulting from this without neglecting to defend our culture, identity and roots, while safeguarding the education of our children.”

The Pope “will find a country that learns every day how to move forward with a progressive and constantly updated social project; a society that is built on the basis of the struggle for a better world; and whose history includes [sympathetic priests] . . . the synthesis of Cuban ethics, and for whom love of their homeland and of God were two consubstantial passions.”

The Pope also “will find a nation of cultural and religious multiplicity, the product of a process of transculturation, . . . essential to an understanding of the history of the nation and of Latin America. A mix of beliefs and manifestations marks the country’s religious makeup, described by the researcher as complex, heterogeneous and contradictory, due to its origins, ideas and representations and ways of organizing and expressing itself through rituals, etc.”

This diversity has “ the Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant and Orthodox churches coexist[ing with] Judaism, spiritualism, Afro-Cuban religions, Islam and Buddhism.” This diversity is protected by Article 8 of the Cuban Constitution, which states:

  • “The State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious freedom. In the Republic of Cuba, religious institutions are separate from the State. The different creeds and religions enjoy equal consideration.”

Article 55 of the Constitution also states: “The State, which recognizes, respects and guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, simultaneously recognizes, respects, and guarantees the freedom of every citizen to change religious creeds, or not to have any; and to profess the religious worship of their choice, with respect for the law. The law regulates the State’s relations with religious institutions.”

These principles have also been reflected in the thoughts and actions of . . . Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz. [He] met with Chilean priests in 1971 and expressed the need to “unite Christians and revolutionaries” in the struggle for freedom. Later, when visiting Jamaica in 1977, this time addressing a predominantly Protestant audience, he returned to the theme of the “strategic alliance” that should exist between religion and socialism.”

“Years later, as evidence of the maturity of the Cuban revolutionary process and in line with the wishes of both parties, meetings between the Comandante and evangelical and protestant leaders in Cuba began to take place – a tradition maintained today by the highest authorities of the government – until, in 1991, at the Fourth [Communist] Party Congress, the wish of those believers eager to join the ranks of the organization was crystallized, an intention reiterated in January 2012 at the First National Conference of the [Communist] Party.”

“There are currently three Protestant pastors, a Presbyterian, a Baptist and an Episcopalian in the Cuban parliament, elected by popular vote; and in the same way members of the Catholic Church and other denominations and religious manifestations form part of the organs of state power and political and mass organizations.”

“The activities undertaken by religious institutions in cooperating with the state in the management of hospitals and nursing homes are examples of their connection with the most pressing problems of society, particularly related to the family and the aging population. These issues have featured on the agenda of recent meetings held between representatives of the institutions and fraternal associations, and the country’s leadership.”

“The visits of Popes John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012, reflected the similarities between the Cuban social project and Christian sentiments, in the effort to eliminate poverty and exclusion, in praising the role of the family, in defense of peace and against war, and in the preservation of the human species. In addition, they demonstrated the deeply humanistic culture of an entire people.”

Benedict XVI said in his farewell address in Cuba: “I hold deep in my heart all the Cuban people, each and every one. You have surrounded me with prayer and affection, offered me cordial hospitality and shared with me your profound and rightful aspirations.”

John Paul II expressed, “I am grateful to you for your cordial hospitality, an authentic expression of the Cuban soul, and above all for being able to share with you intense moments of prayer and reflection.”

“Other religious figures, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the Latin American Episcopal Council and the Caribbean Conference of Churches, general secretaries and presidents of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, cardinals and other prelates of the Holy See, pastors, priests, rabbis, Yoruba leaders, Muslims, Buddhists and scholars, have also visited our country.”

“In 2011, the Cuban Interfaith Platform, which includes representatives of all religious manifestations, was created. Undoubtedly, of special significance was its struggle for the return of the Cuban Five imprisoned in the United States, and in establishing a bridge between them and their families. The Council of Churches of Cuba was also a leading protagonist in the return home of Elián González and in confronting the blockade, another of the battles of our people for justice.

“Pope Francis will encounter these and other realities . . . [in Cuba. We] will welcome him on behalf of all Cuba. Among the gathered there may be those who don’t share the same religious beliefs, even those who are there motivated simply by that feeling of warmth and hospitality so inherent to Cubans.

But we are sure that [the Pope] will leave this land taking with him the imprint of intense days shared with a united and respectful people, true to its ancestors and patriotic sentiment; a nation with a deep commitment to justice and freedom.”

The Release of Prisoners

On September 11 the government announced that it would release 3,522 prisoners, including women, inmates younger than 20 with no prior offenses, those older than 60, prisoners with illnesses, some foreigners whose countries have agreed to repatriate them and others whose terms are coming to an end. Excluded from the release will be those charged with serious crimes like murder or child sexual abuse or crimes against national security.

“It’s a gift to Pope Francis— a grand gesture,” said Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks rights in Cuba.

Sebastián A. Arcos, a former political prisoner in Cuba and now the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami, said the mass release on the cusp of the Pope’s visit was a cynical and opportunistic effort to demonstrate a more tolerant government. “It’s makeup,” he said.

Mr. Arcos added that Cuba was able to make such a mass release largely because so many people were jailed for doing things that would not be illegal in any other country. “The reality is that Cuban prisons are overpopulated, and they have been for many years, because we are talking about a police state, a repressive police state, where almost anything is a crime,” he said. “Before these economic reforms were implemented, selling peanuts on the corner in Havana was a crime.”\

The Detention of Dissidents

 On Sunday, September 13, Cuban police detained about 50 people when a predominantly Roman Catholic dissident group led a march in Havana. In their weekly rally following mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Catholic Church, about 40 of the women, accompanied by about a dozen male supporters, marched outside their authorized route and down a side street where they were set upon by some 200 government supporters and police. Female police pushed, pulled and carried the women onto buses as some sat down in an attempt to resist. The men were handcuffed and shoved into police cars and vans.

Such detentions have become common following regular Sunday marches by the Ladies in White, a group that has criticized the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega for failing to advocate on its behalf with the Cuban government.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler told Reuters the women planned to attend masses that Pope Francis will lead in Havana and Holguin while in Cuba. “I would discuss with the pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public,” Soler said.

Cuba’s government considers the dissidents to be provocateurs who are financed by anti-communist groups in the U.S. as part of an effort to destabilize the government in Havana.

Among those detained for about an hour on Sunday was Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident organization. “The Church should be concerned about this or any time human rights are involved,” Ferrer said. “It is their duty.”

Conclusion

Francis’ visit to Cuba and then to the U.S. and what he has to say to the people and leaders of the two countries will be interesting and most challenging in light of his having played a significant role in helping the two countries to reach their historic decision last December to pursue normalization of relations. These future remarks undoubtedly were previewed in his recent critique of capitalism in an encyclical about environmental degradation and climate change. This theme also was prominent in remarks in his recent trips to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. He called the “unfettered pursuit of money” the “dung of the devil” and urged the poor and disenfranchised to rise up against “new colonialism,” including corporations, loan agencies, free trade treaties, austerity measures, and “the monopolizing of the communications media.”

On the other hand, as Nick Miroff in a Washington Post article pointed out, In a 1998 book about Pope John Paul II’s trip to Cuba, Francis, then still a high official of the church in Argentina, said that “socialism was an ‘anthropological misreading’ of human nature that fails to address man’s spiritual needs, mistakenly believing that the state is the solution to all of society’s problems. He also said, “Cuba and other nations need to transform some of their institutions and especially their policies, substituting corrupt, dictatorial and authoritarian governments for democratic and participatory ones. The free participation of citizens in public life, the guarantee of civil and human rights, are an imperative condition for the full human development of all people.”

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[1] Guerrero, Cuba ready to welcome Pope Francis, Granma (Sept. 10, 2015)

[2] Ahmed & Robles, Cuba to Release 3,522 Prisoners Before Pope Francis’ Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2015); Miroff, Cuba pardons more than 3,500 prisoners ahead of Pope Francis visit, Wash. Post (Sept. 11, 2015); Council of State agrees to pardon 3,522 prisoners, Granma (Sept. 11, 2015).

[3] Reuters, Cuba Detains Dissidents Ahead of Pope Francis Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2015).

Committee To Protect Journalists Criticizes Cuba’s Censorship of the Press

On April 21st the Committee To Protect Journalists ranked Cuba as having the 10th most censored press in the world. [1] The following is its statement about Cuba:

  • “Despite significant improvements in the past few years-such as the elimination of exit visas that had prohibited most foreign travel for decades-Cuba continues to have the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas. The print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state, which has been in power for more than half a century and, by law, must be “in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.” Although the Internet has opened up some space for critical reporting, service providers are ordered to block objectionable content. Independent journalists and bloggers who work online use websites that are hosted overseas and must go to foreign embassies or hotels to upload content and get an unfiltered connection to the Internet. These critical blogs and online news platforms are largely inaccessible to the average Cuban, who still has not benefited from a high-speed Internet connection financed by Venezuela. Most Cubans do not have Internet at home. The government continues to target critical journalists through harassment, surveillance, and short-term detentions. Juliet Michelena Díaz, a contributor to a network of local citizen journalists, was imprisoned for seven months on anti-state charges after photographing an incident between residents and police in Havana. She was later declared innocent and freed. Visas for international journalists are granted selectively by officials.”
  • “Though the government has for the most part done away with long-term detentions of journalists, author-turned-critical blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats has been imprisoned since February 2013 on allegations of domestic violence. The writer and other local independent journalists maintain that he was targeted in retaliation for writing critically about the government on his blog, Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso (The Children Nobody Wanted).”

The Committee’s List is based upon its “research, as well as the expertise of the organization’s staff, . . . [with respect to] the absence of privately owned or independent media, blocking of websites, restrictions on electronic recording and dissemination, license requirements to conduct journalism, restrictions on journalists’ movements, monitoring of journalists by authorities, jamming of foreign broadcasts, and blocking of foreign correspondents.”

These issues about freedom of the press in Cuba should be part of the U.S.-Cuba discussions about Cuban human rights that were covered in an earlier post about the U.S. Department of State’s report about Cuba’s human rights record for 2013 and that will be covered in the soon-to-be-released Department’s report for 2014.[2]

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[1] This List is part of CPJ’s Annual report, “Attacks on the Press,” to be released on April 27th. This post is based upon Comm. To Protect Journalists, 10 Most Censored Countries (April 21, 2015); Assoc. Press, Eritrea, North Korea Called World’s Most Censored States, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2015); Gladstone, Eritrea and North Korea Are World’s Most Censored Countries, Advocacy Group Says, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2015).

[2] Other posts discussed the Cuban Foreign Minister’s recent speech about its human rights, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Cuba, the U.S. and Cuba’s having the same concept of human rights and the initial U.S.-Cuba discussions about U.S. and Cuban human rights.

Cuban Religious Freedom (U.S. State Department’s Report)

cuba_havana_matanzas

We have just reviewed the latest international religious freedom reports from the U.S. Department of State and from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Now we look at the Department’s recent report on Cuban religious freedom.[1] A subsequent post will examine and compare the Commission’s recent views on the subject.

Versalles Church, Matanzas, Cuba
Versalles Church,   Matanzas, Cuba
SET Chapel
SET Chapel, Matanzas, Cuba

 

 

 

 

 

 

This analysis is based upon my personal involvement in helping to establish and manage a partnership between my church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church) and Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Versalles (Versalles Presbyterian-Reformed Church) in Matanzas, Cuba; my going on three church mission trips over the last 10 years to visit that congregation; my visits to the ecumenical seminary–Seminario Evangelico de Teologia (SET)–in Matanzas and other churches and religious organizations on these mission trips;  my hearing reports about other trips to our Cuban partner from fellow members of my church; my conversations with Cuban Christians at their church and when they have visited my church in Minneapolis; and my extensive reading about Cuba and specifically religious freedom on the island.

Cuban Religious Makeup

According to the report, an estimated 60 to 70 percent (or 6,600,000 to 7,700,000) of the 11 million Cuban people are  believed to be Roman Catholic although only 4 to 5 percent regularly attend mass.

Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent of the population (or 550,000):  Baptists and Pentecostals are probably the largest Protestant denominations; Jehovah’s Witnesses, 94,000; Methodists, 35,000; Seventh-day Adventists, 33,000; Anglicans, 22,000; Presbyterians, 15,000; Quakers, 300; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 50.

The Jewish community is estimated at 1,500 members, of whom 1,200 reside in Havana. (On one of my trips to Cuba we visited a synagogue in Havana to deliver a digital version of the Talmud as a gift from our friends at Minneapolis’ Temple Israel.)

There are approximately 6,000 to 8,000 Muslims, although only an estimated 1,000 are Cubans.

Other religious groups include the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, Buddhists and Baha’is. (On another trip to Cuba we visited the beautiful Greek Orthodox Cathedral to deliver an icon as a gift from our friends at Minneapolis’ St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church.)

In addition, many Cubans consult with practitioners of religions with roots in West Africa and the Congo River basin, known as Santeria. These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism, and some even require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately the total membership of these syncretistic groups. (I have visited the Slave Route Museum in the city of Matanzas, Cuba that has a room devoted to Santeria and Havana’s Callejon de Hamel, an alley with  Santeria murals and other things.)

Positive Aspects of Religious Freedom in Cuba

The State Department report had many good things to say about religious freedom in Cuba.

The Cuban “constitution protects religious freedom.” After the 1989 collapse of the U.S.S.R, the Cuban constitution was amended to eliminate “scientific materialism” (atheism) as the state ideology and to declare “the country to be a secular state” with “separation of church and state. The government does not officially favor any particular religion or church.” Moreover, says the State Department, “there were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.” (The same was true in the Department’s prior report for 2011.)

The Cuban government’s respect for religious freedom improved in 2012.

There “were some advances in the ability of members of established churches to meet and worship.”  In  addition, religious groups reported “improved ability [in 2012] to attract new members without government interference. . . . reduced interference from the government in conducting their services, and improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events.” It also was easier for them “to bring in foreign religious workers and visitors and restore houses of worship.” (The same was true in 2011.)

Churches reported “increased participation in religious education for children.” The Catholic Church’s cultural center in Havana “continued to offer academic and business administration courses.”  The “Jewish Community Center and some Protestant churches also offered courses in lay subjects, such as computers and foreign languages.” Some religious groups “operated afterschool programs, weekend retreats and workshops for primary and secondary students and higher education programs for university graduates. Although not sanctioned by the government, these programs operated without interference.” (The same was true in 2011.)

“Religious groups reported they were able to engage in community service programs. These programs included providing assistance to the elderly, after-school tutoring for children, clean water, and health clinics. International faith-based charitable operations, such as Caritas and the Salvation Army, had local offices in Havana.” (The same was true in 2011.)

Indeed, not mentioned in the report is the de facto pharmacy for the neighborhood that is operated by our partner church in Matanzas with over-the-counter medicines donated by visitors from Westminster and by the Matanzas church’s providing one free meal per week to neighborhood residents, many of whom are not members of the church.

In addition, the nearby seminary in Matanzas (SET) now has a clean-water system that was installed by Westminster members and that now provides clean water to SET and to people in the surrounding neighborhood, and SET also provides vegetables from its beautiful gardens to people in the neighborhood.

Luyano Presbyterian-Reformed Church, Havana
Luyano Presbyterian-Reformed Church, Havana

Another clean-water system was installed by Westminster members in Havana’s Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Luyano (Luyano Presbyterian-Reformed Church), which shares the water with people in its neighborhood. A similar water system was installed last year in another church near Havana by Westminster members.

During the year the report says “the Catholic Church and some other churches were able to print periodicals and operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship.” The Catholic Church’s periodicals “sometimes criticized official social and economic policies.” As in previous years, the Catholic Church also received “permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run radio stations and, the Cuban “Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly twenty-minute-long radio broadcast.” In addition, state-run television and radio stations mentioned a Council of Churches ceremony celebrating Reformation Sunday. (Essentially the same was true in 2011.)

The report’s referencing the Cuban Council of Churches, however, did not mention that the it was founded in 1941 (long before the Cuban Revolution), and its members now include 22 churches, 12 ecumenical movements, and seven associate organizations.

Cuban Council of Churches
Cuban Council of Churches

The Council, whose Havana offices I have visited, promotes unity among the Christian Churches of Cuba and helps link these churches with other churches around the world. The Council also encourages dialogue between different movements and institutions as a means for Cuban churches to expand their ecumenical vocation of service, thus deepening their responsibilities towards society and all of God’s creation. Finally the Council promotes study, dialogue, and cooperation among Christians to increase Christian witness and enhance life in Cuba.

The State Department said Cuban religious leaders reported that the government “frequently granted permission to repair or restore existing temples, allowing significant expansion of some structures and in some cases allowing essentially new buildings to be constructed on the foundations of the old. Many houses of worship were thus expanded or repaired.” (The same was true in 2011.) And in a prior year our partner church in Matanzas obtained such permission to expand its facilities for children’s Sunday School programming, and Westminster members helped build that expansion.)

Even though some religious organizations and “house churches” have not been officially recognized by the government, as required by Cuban law, in practice, said the State Department, most unregistered organizations and “house churches” operated with little or no interference from the government. (The same was true in 2011.)

Both the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported “they were able to conduct religious services in prisons and detention centers in most provinces.” (According to the report, however, some prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to religious assistance, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits to a maximum of two or three times per year.) (The same was true in 2011.)

Although there is no official law of policy for conscientious objection to military service, since 2007 the government has unofficially allowed a period of civilian public service to substitute for military service for men who object on religious grounds. The leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists stated that their members usually were permitted to participate in social service in lieu of military service. (The same was true in 2011.)

The leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists stated that mistreatment and job discrimination, which had been particularly harsh in the past, were now rare and that their members were usually exempted from political activities at school. Seventh-day Adventist leaders stated that their members employed by the state usually were excused from working on Saturdays. (The same was true in 2011.)

Pope Benedict XVI @ Plaza de Revolucion
Pope Benedict XVI @      Plaza de Revolucion

In late March 2012 Pope Benedict XVI visited the island at the invitation of the Cuban government, which assisted in organizing papal masses in large public squares in the two largest cities. During the mass in Havana’s Plaza de Revolucion before a crowd of thousands, the Pope called for “authentic freedom.” The government declared a three-day public holiday to facilitate citizen participation in these events, and videos of the visit were broadcast on state-run television stations with parallel coverage in the print media.

Negative Aspects of Religious Freedom in Cuba

Although to my eye the Department’s report is overwhelmingly positive, it still opens with an unnecessary negative tone. It says, “in practice, [the Cuban] government policies and practices restricted religious freedom . . . . The Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, continued to control most aspects of religious life.”

The report also had specifics on what it saw as negative aspects of religious freedom in Cuba.

The report notes that obtaining government permission for construction of new religious buildings remained difficult.

(This may well be true, but, in my opinion, this difficulty springs from the government’s attempts to regulate the allocation of scarce resources in a relatively poor country and to allocate more resources to other purposes it deems more important. It was not an attempt to restrict religious freedom. Moreover, as noted above, the State Department recognized that it was relatively easy in 2012 for Cuban religious groups to obtain government permission to repair and remodel existing buildings.)

By law religious groups are required to apply to the Ministry of Justice for official recognition. The application procedure requires religious groups to identify the location of their activities and their source of funding, and requires the ministry to certify that the group is not ‘duplicating’ the activities of another recognized organization in which case, recognition is denied. A number of religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, have been waiting for years for a decision from the Ministry of Justice on their pending applications for official recognition.

(However, as previously noted, the report said that unrecognized religious groups were able to conduct religious activities, hold meetings, receive foreign visitors, and send representatives abroad. In addition, I believe that the government’s official requirement that such applications indicate it is not “duplicating” another organization’s activities is due to the previously mentioned desire to conserve scarce resources.)

Once the Ministry of Justice grants official recognition, religious organizations have to request permission from the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, to hold meetings in approved locations, to receive foreign visitors, and to travel abroad. Religious groups indicated that while many applications were approved within two to three years from the date of the application, other applications received no response or were denied. Some religious groups were only able to register a small percentage of their “house churches.”

(However, as previously noted, the report also says that the “house churches” operate without governmental interference.)

The report states that religious groups may not establish schools. This is true because the Cuban Revolution nationalized all private schools and instead emphasized public education for all children.

The report also says, “Except for two Catholic seminaries and several interfaith training centers throughout the island, religious schools were not permitted.”

This is an erroneous or misleading statement about religious education in Cuba as shown by the report’s own acknowledgement that religious organizations had increased ability to conduct their own educational programs and by the following facts not mentioned in the report:

  • Since 1946 there has been an ecumenical Protestant Christian seminary in the city of Matanzas — Seminario Evangelico de Teologia (SET)–that was founded by the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal Churches. It has a full curriculum for various degrees as well as other non-degree programs, some of which are offered in other cities on the island.
  • The Methodists recently withdrew from SET to start their own seminary in Havana.
MLK Center, Havana
MLK Center, Havana
  • SET and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana are developing a program for education of prospective owners and operators of private businesses on the island under the government’s announcement allowing such activities. The MLK Center, by the way, was founded in 1987 to provide training and education in King’s philosophy of nonviolence for Cuban religious and community leadership.
  •  In the last several summers young people from Westminster have conducted a vacation Bible school at our partner church in Matanzas.

“A license from the Office of Religious Affairs is necessary to import religious literature and other religious materials.” (Yet, as previously mentioned, the report itself states there were fewer restrictions on such importation.)

The report also states that “the government owns nearly all printing equipment and supplies and tightly regulates printed materials, including religious literature.”(This, in my opinion, is an overstatement. Our partner church in Matanzas owns old-fashioned printing presses and at least one specialized computer printer, and the church prints and distributes religious bulletins and journals for most, if not all, of the Protestant churches on the island.)

Printing press, Versalles Church, Matanzas
Printing press, Versalles Church, Matanzas
Church bulletins for distribution, Versalles Church, Matanzas
Church bulletins for distribution, Versalles Church, Matanzas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The report states that most “religious leaders reported they exercised self-censorship in what they preached and discussed during services. Many feared that direct or indirect criticism of the government could result in government reprisals, such as denials of permits from the Office of Religious Affairs or other measures that could stymie the growth of their organizations.” (May be true.)

The government took “measures to limit support for outspoken religious figures that it considered a challenge to its authority.” I have no basis to challenge that statement or the specifics cited by the report on this point with respect to Pastor Omar Perez Ruiz (aka Omar Gude Perez), a leader of the Apostolic Reformation, an association of independent nondenominational churches or the Ladies in White, or the death of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas in an auto crash. (Whatever the facts are in these cases, I believe they are issues of civil liberties for Cuban dissidents, not issues of religious freedom.)

Conclusion

Is the glass half empty or half full? This is the question for all human activities since none of us is perfect, and it is the legitimate question about religious freedom in Cuba.

In the opinion of a Cuban Protestant leader and in my opinion, the glass of such freedom in Cuba is more than half full.

Therefore, there is no basis whatsoever  for the U.S. government or her citizens to castigate Cuban religious institutions or leaders or members. As Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees when they asked him if they should stone a woman who had committed adultery, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” All of the questioners then silently departed without throwing any stones. (John 8: 3-11.)

I, therefore,  am glad that this U.S. government report does not designate Cuba as a “Country of Particular Concern,i.e., a country which has “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” or the ” systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” There is no basis for any such designation, in my opinion.


[1] Prior posts examined the State Department’s reports on Cuban religious freedom for 2010 and 2011.