While the “reforms” of Cuban dictator Raul Castro are being touted as harbingers of a kinder, gentler Cuban government, the religious freedoms of Cubans on the island continue to be trampled. The only religious practice accepted in Cuba is worship at the Church of Castro, and any other religious practice that refuses to recognize the deity of the Castro regime is dealt with quickly and decisively.
Cuban Schools Slap Down Jehovah’s Witnesses
Refusal to conform with state ideology exposes faith group members to discrimination.
By Yaremis Flores Marín – Latin America
A member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cuba filed a complaint with the state prosecutor last month alleging discrimination against her three school-age daughters.
She says the authorities have condoned acts of discrimination including physical and verbal violence, which have led the pupils to miss classes and their parents to move house.
“I demand a solution, because they are responsible for safeguarding young people on the island,” said the woman, known by the pseudonym Ana to protect her family’s identity. “I’m tired of the poor treatment they [my daughters] receive, and of the fact that no one is doing anything about it.”
Her appeal to the prosecutor general follows unsuccessful applications to other state institutions. Cuba has no judicial mechanism for dealing with complaints about breaches of religious freedom.
Ana explained that because of the values held by Jehovah’s Witnesses, “The girls do not wear school uniforms as the religion prohibits this. They don’t sing the national anthem or pay tribute to national symbols, either.”
The trouble began in Bayamo, a town in the eastern Granma province, where the children got into trouble for not taking part in the political activities that are a feature of school life in Cuba. This was noted in one of the girls’ reports as the reason why she had failed fifth grade.
“The individual in charge of religious affairs for the province warned me that if the children didn’t attend political activities, they would fail the year,” Ana said.
For the school year starting 2011, the family moved back to the capital Havana. The girl who had failed fifth grade was allowed to attend classes again, but according to Ana, “the problems continued”.
Another of her daughters told her that the teacher had slapped her on the head. The parents reported this to the police, but the case was shelved.
Ana says the school itself took no action, and the girls continue to be mistreated by teachers and bullied by their peers.
All three girls are upset and invent illnesses to avoid having to go to school. Ana says they have not been to school for nearly two months.
The Cuban government does not recognise the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a legitimate faith group. since 1974. In their latest yearbook, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say there are 1,400 congregations in Cuba, and over 95,00 “publishers”, the term used for active members.
The state education system is heavily politicised, and the current school regulations require all pupils to be “willing to defend the socialist homeland”. That is something Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot do, as they are conscientious objectors.
Yaremis Flores Marin is an independent lawyer and citizen journalist in Cuba.