In Cuba There is Religious Freedom Only for Churches Recognized by the Government
In response to accusations presented on July 13 at the United Nations that the Government of Cuba violates religious freedoms, a colloquium on religious freedom was held in Santiago de Cuba on Monday, with the Council of Churches, which includes the denominations recognized by the authorities of the Island.
The meeting, organized by the United Evangelical Church in Cuba Lutheran Synod, was held at the Heredia Theater Convention Center and was attended by 36 guests, representing 16 Evangelical Churches and other religious denominations, as well as officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Communist Party of Cuba’s Office of Religious Affairs.
However, evangelical leaders of churches not approved by the government were excluded. This is the case of Pastor Alain Toledano, of the Apostolic Movement of Cuba, who, according to the aforementioned UN declaration, has been the victim of continued harassment along with his family and members of his congregation.
“I did not know of the existence of that event, to which no one invited me,” he told 14ymedio by phone. “I imagine that this is related to the demand made at the UN about the persecution and eviction that we have suffered. They have stolen the property of the family and the church, they have prohibited me from leaving the country and they continue to slander me.”
For Toledano, “This Council of Churches does not represent the true interests of the Church in Cuba, it is an organ manufactured by the Government that responds directly to the political interests of the Communist Government.”
To date, the Cuban Government has not yet officially ruled on the accusations of discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs and the dismantling of churches established in the country. However, others have done it for him, starting with the National Council of Churches (NCC), whose statement has been published by the official press.
Along the same lines, most of the speakers at the colloquium in Santiago de Cuba have expressed themselves by insisting on the existence, since 1990, of a constructive dialogue between the Church, the State and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). There was criticism for pastors who maintain “a politicized and aggressive testimony — instead of being evangelicals, agents of peace — which leads them to feel and publicly express a visceral hatred against the Government.”
However, in the Heredia theater it was not all applause for the official speech. Bishop Ismael Laborde spoke bluntly: “In the Stalinist model of socialism that exists in Cuba, thinking that the existence of a single party implies the existence of a single ideology is a historical error and a political error.”
Maikel V. Ramírez, from the Pentecostal Church of Cuba, stated that the Evangelical Churches were not recognized even though they have a legal framework. “They don’t allow us to contract even to do social works, it is painful to sin and engage in illicit businesses in order to support a community, even though we legalize the church.”
Ramírez asked why he has to depend on the Communist Party to invite a brother to preach in his church, to host him, among other things, “Why do I have to be held accountable when I want to hold my events?” And he added: “This is why we need a law regarding worship where we are recognized, because as long as that does not exist, the Church is invisible.”
The coordinator of the Council of Churches in Santiago de Cuba, Alejandro Riveras Díaz, spoke in favor of a law regarding worship. “We do not have legal standing, we do not have a voice in this country, the Constitution does not consider us as an entity, they hold us back because we need PCC permits for everything. They have to control everything, even to rent a premises.”
In another of his statement, Bishop Ismael Laborde, who had criticized the ideology of the single party, was more conciliatory with the authorities. Referring to the United Nations resolution, he affirmed that “in Cuba no one is persecuted for the cause of Christ and, if people have legal conflicts, it is not for preaching the gospel; those conflicts usually refer to illegalities committed.”
He went even further. “We in Cuba have more freedom than in the United States in that sense, what happens is that that freedom is not organized. Nobody prohibits me from preaching at a bus stop, for example, this is not about the Church defending a party or a government, the Church is not even a national but a universal pilgrim, the Church must respect Caesar’s decisions and in this place the Church must be a prophet.”
A day before the colloquium, which was held in the hall of an official institution with all the required support, while Pastor Alain Toledano was preaching about the “government of the antichrist”, his temple was attacked by a group of sympathizers of the regime, who they a “repudiation rally“.
Toledano told 14ymedio that “when the police showed up at the scene and found that everything was in order inside the temple, they decided to withdraw instead of stopping the insults, obscene words and shoves that the protesters carried out with total impunity.”
In response to the argument that he is persecuted only for “incurring illegal activities”, he claimed that he “had not been born when Communism was already persecuting the Cuban Churches… This did not start with us. The Assemblies of God have dozens of Churches and they have knocked down their temples, that have taken away their houses, have confiscated their property. The Baptist Church also has a whole history. The only ones justifying this repression they are those who are still in that Council of Churches. They are members of an organism that is at the service of the Cuban State. “