Following the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe, and given its need for international support to continue in power, which is its supreme objective, the Havana regime attempted to deceive the world by trying to make some believe that, in Cuba, they were no longer violating religious liberty as they had before.
The constitutional changes in the beginning of the 1990s, when the State stopped calling itself atheist and instead identified as laïque (secular), and the various papal visits were the main arguments that the same government used to try to call favorable attention to itself.
The truth is that the policies of the highest levels of the central government continue to trample on religious freedom on a daily basis. The Office for Attention to Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party is the entity, at the very highest power, which dictates all guidelines as far as how to treat each religious group or individual who wants to exercise their faith freely, whatever it is. It would be unbelievable, if it wasn’t already the case that the political monopoly of the Only Party, which is ideologically communist, would have an office dedicated to pressuring, manipulating and blackmailing historically established religious groups, and dedicated to containing, confronting or eliminating new religious movements when they do not align with their political interests which is to maintain themselves in power, at any cost.
In the specific case of religious freedom, it is perfectly understandable that authoritarianism cannot betray its own violating nature. The internal blockade imposed by the national authorities impedes any of the benefits, regarding the exchange of religious materials with the island, that are part of the numerous opportunities offered to Cuba through licenses granted by the Department of the Treasury of the USA.
To show an example that I have personally experienced and which I have every right to speak about, I will refer to things that my church, my family and I have suffered – some of those things repeated in recent weeks:
- They have blocked my every attempt to travel to urban communities, including for example to the city of Bejucal, a few kilometers outside the capital, Havana City. In this way they restrict my pastoral activities in rural communities where they are also trying to slow down and stop any religious activity.
- They have blocked my wife and me in our attempts to study for a doctorate in Theology inside Cuba. They made our exclusion from the program a condition for its ability to take place at all.
- They have detained and taken us to police stations on numerous occasions; these arrests have been denounced when they took place. These arrests were extra-legal.
- On other occasions my movements have been restricted, a kind of house arrest, but also illegally imposed. During the recent papal visit, hundreds of people suffered this kind of violation. Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso, present in this very room, is a member of a Masonic lodge in Cuba, and can share abundant information about how the rights of these fraternal institutions are violated. He himself was able to video with his cellular phone, the moment in which political police agents put him under house arrest in order to prevent him from attending the Papal Masses.
- Numerous members of my church have been the targets of threats, coercion, blackmail, and warnings simply because they form part of our congregation. Some of them have had to seek political asylum in order to avoid this kind of persecution. Many of them can now be found living in various cities in the United States.
- People in our communities have been coerced or intimidated in order to stop them from attending our church; this constitutes and real campaign against our work.
- Since January 2013, when Cubans were first able to travel outside the island without having to obtain permission from the system, I have been detained in the airport itself or interrogated various times upon arriving back on the island.
- Every time I have returned from a trip to the island my luggage has been searched as if I was a drug trafficker, but the confiscated materials have never been drugs, but rather literature, in many cases religious literature, and including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most recent of these occasions was just two weeks ago (on Saturday, October 24) when they confiscated from my luggage 64 copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which I had planned to share with members of my congregation in Cuba.
- The local Communist Party leaders hold regular meetings, convened to direct their followers in multiplying their efforts to confront my pastoral ministry
- The roof of the Baptist church, where my church meets, is in urgent need of repair. In order to carry out these repairs a permit is needed – we requested the permit two years ago but while there has been no official response, the political authorities have said verbally that as long as I am pastor they will not issue the permit. This is a shameful attempt to blackmail my church.
- The State has a monopoly on the education of all children in Cuba. They impose a strong indoctrination and this is used to transmit political propaganda, in many cases of a violent nature (the icon is Che Guevara). This has traumatic effects on my two daughters, Rocío and Rachel, and especially on little Rachel who is only seven years old. Now in second grade, and despite having shown excellent development in preschool and in first grade, she has cried almost every night in September and October about the fact that she has to go back the next day to a school where they teach her principles that directly contradict those which we teach in our Sunday school.
- On some occasions they have tried to protest our religious services through the use of mobs manipulated by the authorities. Last night, when I arrived in Miami coming from Cuba I uploaded video onto YouTube of such acts which took place only a week and a half ago, on Sunday, October 25.
- My and my wife’s property has been confiscated by the police, for example in the case of our personal laptop computers. The worst thing was not the confiscation but rather the degree of helplessness that we felt when we tried to seek redress from the judicial institutions, which supposedly exist to defend us, but from which we didn’t even receive a response, in violation of their own regulations.
- The leaders of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, to which our churches are affiliated, are constantly pressured by the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party to take action against us.
- My personal correspondence is constantly violated without any respect, even for international and prestigious services like DHL. A recent example which I just experienced was with the package Number 5441892820 which was sent from Argentina last October 9 and although it arrived in Cuba on the 14th I was not able to claim it until October 30, after calling out and denouncing the situation on my twitter account.
- My cellular phone service is also constantly interrupted, the provider is Cubacel, which has a total monopoly over the telephone lines in Cuba but which is completely manipulated by the political police.
The worst of all of this is that I am just one, trivial, example and to cap it all off, I am associated with a church that has been legally recognized and registered since 1939, where violations like those I describe, as well as others, are experienced by many of our pastors and churches. This includes properties like the land which, in the past, belonged to our Baptist high school in Yaguajay, which was illegally expropriated by the very authorities. If this happens to us, who at least have legal recognition in Havana, and are associated with the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, which has been established since 1905, what happens to the hundreds of groups who for years have existed on the island without legal recognition? Among those, I would like to highlight egregious cases like that of the apostolic groups and that of the Berean Baptist Mission, whose leaders and members are constantly subjected to all kinds of harassment.