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Support religious freedom in Cuba

Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon in The Miami Herald:

Support religious freedom in Cuba year marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s current government and July 26 commemorated the 61st anniversary of the revolution which swept it into power. After coming to power, the Castro government broke its pro-democracy pledges and, despite recent improvements, maintains a problematic record on human rights, including religious freedom.

This was confirmed by the State Department’s international religious freedom annual report, which was released this week. It also was exhibited when the government recently detained more than 100 members of the Ladies in White, relatives of imprisoned dissidents who draw inspiration from their Catholic faith.

Religious freedom and other rights are spelled out in international documents — including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) — which most nations, including Cuba, endorsed. It was a Cuban diplomat, Guy Perez-Cisneros, who together with other Latin Americans helped drive its drafting and passage. Thus, whenever Havana violates human rights, it betrays not only its past promises, but Cuba’s legacy of liberty. The world should affirm this legacy by standing steadfastly for Cuban religious freedom and related rights.

The seeds for that legacy already were being sown in early 1945, just prior to the San Francisco conference that founded the United Nations, when Latin American delegates meeting in Mexico adopted a resolution supporting a human rights declaration for the U.N. Charter. They lobbied for it vigorously once the conference opened.

The Charter mentioned human rights seven times, along with an agreement to establish a Human Rights Commission. This commission prepared an international bill of rights which became the UDHR and Perez-Cisneros spoke eloquently for the pro-freedom coalition that made it possible.

As detailed by the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal body on which we serve, the Castro government has yet to own this heritage. Instead, it controls and monitors religious activities and requires an invasive registration process.

What happens when a religious community refuses to register? It cannot receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved places of worship, or apply for travel abroad for religious purposes.

What happens when it agrees to register? Local communist officials must approve its activities and the government interferes with its leadership and internal affairs. Havana often seeks to change church structure, freeze church assets, close churches, and intimidate pastors of churches such as the Western Baptist Convention.

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