My testimony For the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere hearing on “Deplorable Human Rights Violations in Cuba and Venezuela” 6 November 2015 (Part II)

Junto al Congresista Republicano Carlos Curbelo , Jeff Duncan, quien presidio la audiencia; y Sylvia iriondo y Antonio rodiles, los otros dos cubanos quienes ofrecieron su testimonio

Junto a los congresistas Carlos Curbelo y Jeff Duncan, quien presidio la audiencia; y Sylvia Iriondo y Antonio rodiles, los otros dos cubanos que también ofrecieron su testimonio

Taking into account all of the acts that contradict the claims of the Cuban system, that it is no longer the violator religious freedom that it once was (as if the unquestionable fact that violating religious freedom in the past does not invalidate them from continuing to exercise power today), in September 2013 with the support of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), we developed at least thirty questions directed at the regime in Havana.

The answers continue to accuse them without even touching on the rest of the civic, social and political rights. Of the thirty questions, only question 13, referring to Alan Gross has changed, the others, unfortunately remain unchanged. The following are our questions:

  1. Why is the Office for Attention to Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party maintained if , if, as a political power, it is not in its power to define who should or should not believe, or how they should believe? 
  2. Why don’t they return the majority of properties confiscated during the years of open persecution, or reimburse the affected religious groups for their losses? 
  3. Why do they threaten to confiscate properties which are used for religious services, arguing to that they are not legal churches or house churches, when they themselves are unwilling to legalize them? 
  4. Why haven’t they asked forgiveness for the imprisonments, for those interned in the concentration camps known as UMAPs, or even the murders of those who held different ideologies? 
  5. Why hasn’t anyone been held to account for the wave of repression which took place during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI when hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained and threatened? (and now we see similar events in relation to the recent visit of Pope Francis).
  6. Why do they continue to deny access to mass media to the entirety of religious groups?
  7. Why does there continue to be a monopoly on education in their hands, without allowing religious groups to open campuses, despite their own urgent admission that the Cuban people need a moral and civic education to re-instill the values held by Cubans all over the world and which today are absent?
  8. Why do they impose an education that is supposedly secular, but is full of atheism and political doctrines which uphold violence, upon the children of believers, for example the symbols and slogans that students are forced to wear and repeat?
  9. Why are religious groups, which request registration, and which have the same rights as those which are historically recognized, denied access to the Registry of Associations at the Ministry of Justice? 
  10. Why are new religious groups coerced, threatened and repressed, taking advantage and using the same legal limbo to which they have been condemned against them?
  11. Why does the Office dedicated to religion in the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, assuming pontifical airs, meet regularly with leaders of the historically recognized religious groups to encourage, promote and instigate divisions and hatred towards other religious groups to which they do not extend the same rights that are their due?
  12. Why haven’t religious groups which have been declared to be illegal, for example the notorious case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, been reinstated on the Registry of Associations of the Ministry of Justice?
  13. Why don’t they free the US citizen, Alan Gross, who is a prisoner in Cuba for having supported the Cuban Jewish community with technology, and who now serves as a warning and a lesson to anyone else who would decide to show solidarity with any other existing religious community?
  14. Why are the members of the pro-human rights women’s group, known as the Ladies in White, denied access to churches, for example in recent weeks as they have been violently repressed especially in Eastern Cuba and in the province of Matanzas? 
  15. Why are those religious leaders who insist on opening the doors of their places of worship to any Cuban, regardless of political affiliation, threatened, punished and harassed?
  16. Why do they attack the group of pastors and churches in the east of Cuba, known as Pastors for Change, who were blocked last year from distributing donations to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba?
  17. Why do they arbitrarily punish historically established churches when they adopt any position that conflicts with their exclusionary and unjust political positions, denying them the rights that are theirs by law?
  18. Why do they attempt to isolate specific religious leaders, blocking any access to them; this is exemplified in the detention and unjust deportation of foreigners who attempted to visit the Catholic priest, José Conrado, a living example of this?
  19. Why do they take advantage of their monopoly on banks, using churches’ bank accounts against them as a means of coercion? This is illustrated in the frozen dollar account of La Trinidad Baptist Church in the city of Santa Clara, where they also refuse to legally recognize the Luis Manuel Gonzalez Peña Baptist Theological Seminary.
  20. Why did they announce that, as of January 2014, each religious association will be limited to only one bank account and that bank accounts of individual religious institutions will be eliminated, like the account of the Baptist church in Santa Clara?
  21. Why, when the Office of Religious Affairs approves the visit of religious delegates from abroad, do they limit the movement of those who have received visas, forcing them into a rigid and extremely exclusionary and monitored itinerary?
  22. Why do the content of minutes and agreements taken within religious associations have to be made available to and approved by the Office of Religious Affairs?
  23. Why do lodges and fraternal societies, whose services are not open to the public, forced, ignoring their right to confidentiality, to turn over lists of their members?
  24. Why, as they themselves have admitted on their television program “Las Razones de Cuba”, do they have religious and fraternal groups under strict surveillance, including infiltrating them with spies at the highest levels, as in the notorious case of the highest leader of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Cuba?
  25. Why do they refuse to give legal recognition to new churches, submitted by the associations, and in the few cases when they do, why do they impose such strict limitations upon the operation of these recognized house churches?
  26. Why are they so reticent to give permission to build new churches and make essential repairs on existing ones?
  27. Why aren’t the majority of the biblical and theological seminaries in the country recognized by the Ministry of Superior Education, despite being recognized by their religious associations, and why doesn’t even one of the universities in the country have a Faculty of Theology?
  28. Why, if they claim that the strange deaths of believers like Juan Wilfredo Soto García, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, were not extrajudicial executions, do they refuse to permit any impartial investigations, as have been requested and which would only confirm their innocence?
  29. Why is there such a notable absence of any Law of Worship, which is necessary for a nation as profoundly religious as Cuba?
  30. Why do some prisoners, especially political prisoners, continue to be denied the right to religious attention and why does the government continue to reserve the right to approve or block specific religious leaders from carrying out prison ministry, including those who have been approved by their denomination to do so?

There are many more questions that could expose the falsehood of the regime’s claims of religious freedom in Cuba. Those who, today, attempt to deceive the world into believing that there is religious freedom in Cuba are the very same people who years ago tried to destroy religion. The pastoral letter, “Hope Does Not Disappoint”, by the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops states that political changes are necessary. In our view the fundamental political change necessary, to obtain real religious freedom, is that those who have gripped power for almost sixty years and who have an ample, scandalous and systematic history of violating religious freedom must give up their power to others who can allow for a democracy and who will respect those rights. We pray that this will take place in a peaceful but immediate manner because too much time without freedom has now gone by. We hope for a new Cuba, where all of us hope there will also be religious freedom and that not even one of these thirty questions which we formulated two years ago will need to be asked.

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