As religious persecution in Cuba worsens, the U.S. and free nations must step up

If America is truly the world’s beacon of freedom, it cannot sit idly by as the communist Castro dictatorship ratchets up religious persecution on the island.

An Op-Ed by Antonio Garrastazu in The Messenger:

Religious Persecution in Cuba is Getting Worse, and America Must Act

Cuban dictator Miguel Diaz-Canel traveled to Brussels for the July 17-18 EU-Latin America Summit, acting the part of world leader while the people of Cuba continue to suffer under the island’s communist dictatorship. Canel’s attempts to paint a happy picture of life under his regime are belied by recent reports on the island’s worsening human rights situation — particularly regarding religious freedom.

According to the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, a staggering 68% of respondents report that either they or someone they know has experienced varying degrees of harassment, repression, threats or obstruction in practicing their faith. Fifty-five percent of interviewees know a religious leader or group whose work has been prevented or faced difficulties, with even higher proportions among interviewees who identified as believers in the survey. The study also reveals the extent of state surveillance of religious Cubans: A whopping 65% of religious respondents reported being monitored.

Hostility to religious freedom dates to the earliest days of Cuba’s communist dictatorship, but in recent years has seen a resurgence. This is due in part to the fact that religious institutions are the most trusted institutions in Cuba, and by their nature offer an alternative vision of morality and meaning that sets itself outside of the authority of the state. Moreover, 73% of respondents polled for the Observatory report say that Cuba is going in the wrong direction — a clear reflection of the mounting public dissatisfaction that has made the regime increasingly nervous, and correspondingly keen to crack down on dissent.

The Cuban regime consistently uses coercive tactics and selectively applies laws in an arbitrary manner to suppress both the leaders and followers of religious groups. Reports by the Patmos Institute and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) detail how Cuba’s Penal Code has been used in new ways to intensify religious persecution. This includes expanding the definition of “subversive activities,” criminalizing the use of social networks. Targeted groups and individuals may be subject to travel restrictions and detentions, and raids and confiscation of religious materials, with independent journalists reporting on these issues also caught in the crosshairs.

It is far past time for the international community to take urgent action to address these escalating human rights violations. Initiatives like a recent USCIRF public hearing held in Miami provide important opportunities to highlight this issue outside of Washington — but more must be done. As USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf commented, “This is the year to make sure that human rights and religious freedoms, both political parties, have an agenda, have a platform, say we come together and bring about religious freedom in Cuba.”

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