Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Freedom of Belief still persecuted in Cuba

Cubans are not allowed to build new churches. Many have to attend services in a "house church" or in churches established prior to 1959. Photo by Slim Ministries

The Cuban dictatorship has had a hostile relationship with religion since the beginning when it officially declared itself an atheist state and expelled scores of priests on September 17, 1961, ended Christmas in 1970, and sent mobs to intimidate Cubans attending religious services. In the first years 90% of Cuba's Jewish population fled the dictatorship shrinking from 15,000 to 1,500 persons of the Jewish faith. Anti-semitism has been a problem in 20th century Cuban history with the saga of the SS St. Louis a prominent pre-revolutionary example and the Cuban dictatorships contempt for the Jewish Cubans who fled in 1959 manifests in an engrained antisemitism. Jehovah's witnesses suffered greatly for their faith and were targeted by the dictatorship refusing to take part in political activities.

The United States Department 2003 International Religious Freedom Report described the next big action by the Castro regime against religion in the 1960s:
From 1965-67 the Government forced many priests, pastors, and others "who made religion a way of life" into forced labor camps called Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPS), alongside homosexuals, vagrants, and others considered by the regime to be "social scum." The UMAP system ended in 1967. However, over the following 30 years, the Government and the Communist Party systematically discriminated against and marginalized persons who openly professed their faith by excluding them from certain jobs (such as teaching). Although the Government abandoned its official atheism in the early 1990s, most churches had been weakened seriously, and active participation in religious services fell drastically.
Supposedly things changed for the better in 1992 with the abandonment of the goals of an atheist state for a secular one and with Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998 which led to the restoration of Christmas after a nearly 30-year absence, but despite cosmetic improvements new laws were passed that increased repression against religious practitioners and pastors are being sent to prison for their faith today. Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a February 1, 2010 Christian Today article that:
[A]t least thirty church leaders from the Apostolic Reformation were arrested and detained across Cuba last year, with several reporting that the authorities had threatened to confiscate their homes. Pastor Mario Alvarez is one church leader who has appealed to the Supreme Tribunal to block what he believes is the illegal confiscation of his home.
Pastor Omar Gude Perez is serving an unjust six-year prison sentence and earlier this month the Supreme Tribunal in Havana denied his appeal. The pastor is a leader of the growing Apostolic Reformation, a network of independent churches that has grown considerably in Cuba. He was tried and convicted last year of what Christian Solidarity Worldwide said were “trumped up” charges. International campaigns have been launched to obtain his release.

Unjustly imprisoned: Pastor Omar Gude Pérez

Despite all the changes the regime refuses to allow new Church's to be built and Cubans have had to resort to attending services in "house churches" pictured at the top of the page. This has led to the owners of the home being evicted and some of the churches destroyed. Christian Solidarity Worldwide in their September 2009 describes the new restrictions:

An April 2005 directive issued and implemented by the dictatorship on September 2005, severely curtails religious freedom by imposing complicated and repressive restrictions on all unofficial churches in Cuba. The legislation, Directive 43 and Resolution 46, announced in the wake of Pope John Paul II’s funeral, requires that all house churches (in Cuba the term can be applied to any building not officially designated for religious worship but used for religious purposes) register with the authorities. This continues to cause concern among church leaders as house churches which have attempted to register with local authorities prior and subsequent to the enactment of the 2005 legislation have experienced prohibitive complications in the process.
The bottom line is that freedom of belief in Cuba like all other freedoms are null and void when it concerns the interests of the dictatorship maintaining power.

Former political prisoner Gregorio Asorio spent a decade in the Cuban dictatorship's prisons in the course of an interview he was asked what was the first experience he disliked about the new dictatorship and responded that "The first thing I disliked was their exclusivism, that is, if you were a revolutionary, if you submitted, then you could find a good job, you could study. If not, you were isolated for religious reasons, or because you did not accept them. That was the first thing I disliked. Then, I also disliked the repression, the trials, that is to say, there were trials that condemned people to execution."

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