Friday, April 15, 2022

Good Friday and Passover Reflection on religious freedom in Cuba. Remembering Basilio Guzmán and Bishop Agustín Román

Take up the cross and follow ...

Taking up the cross.

Source: CubaBrief

Today has powerful significance for both Christians and Jews. On April 15th Passover, also known as Pesach in Hebrew, begins at nightfall. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from over two centuries of slavery when Moses led them out of Egypt. It has been celebrated since 1300 BC according to the Book of Exodus in the Bible, and will conclude on April 23rd at nightfall. It is a Jewish celebration of liberation

Moses leads Hebrews out of slavery.

Today also marks Good Friday, the day that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died in 33 AD. This was the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Pope John Paul II on Good Friday, April 10, 1998 at the end of the Via Crucis in Rome gave this powerful reflection on its importance.

“It is now the dead of night. As we contemplate Christ dead on the Cross, our thoughts turn to the countless injustices and sufferings which prolong his passion in every part of the world. I think of the places where man is insulted and humiliated, downtrodden and exploited. In every person suffering from hatred and violence, or rejected by selfishness and indifference, Christ continues to suffer and die. On the faces of those who have been "defeated by life" there appear the features of the face of Christ dying on the Cross. Ave, Crux, spes unica! Today too, from the Cross there springs hope for all.”

Both Passover and Good Friday are part of the religious tradition of most Cubans that speaks to the struggle for freedom both material and spiritual, but a new significance is added following 63 years of communist tyranny and repression. In the Christian Gospels Jesus Christ called on his followers to “take up the cross and follow Me.

On September 17, 1961, Castro regime agents at gunpoint collected 131 priests, brothers and a bishop, placing them on board the Spanish ship Covadonga and deported them from Cuba. Over 300 priests, brothers, and nuns were expelled from Cuba in 1961 alone.

Cuban priests expelled from Cuba at gunpoint on September 17, 1961

Many of the remaining priests and nuns were sent to forced labor camps. The Castro regime declared itself an atheist state in 1962, and openly hostile to religion. Christmas ended as a holiday in Cuba in 1969. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the dictatorship declared itself "secular" and Christmas returned to Cuba in 1997, but restrictions continued.

Judaism was not exempt from religious repression under the Castro dictatorship. Seth J. Frantzman, a Jewish academic based in Jerusalem, following the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016 wrote an analysis of the tyrant's antisemitism.

"Most Jews fled Cuba when Castro came to power, dwindling from 15,000 to around 1,500 by 2014. Once Castro entered the Soviet orbit the official anti-Zionist and anti-Israel line became common in Cuba, but most writers argue it did not flow over into anti-semitism. Only one anti-semitic incident, stone throwing at a synagogue during the 1973 war, was recorded in decades."

The attack on the synagogue coincided with Fidel Castro breaking diplomatic relations with Israel on September 10, 1973. The lack of reported antisemitic incidents had more to do with the end of independent civil society and the outlawing of human rights groups under the Castro regime.  Frantzman exposes the duplicity of Fidel Castro in Mosaic in the November 29, 2016 article, “The Truth about Fidel Castro and Anti-Semitism” , highlighting how the Cuban dictator prevented the importation of kosher meat.

In 1994, … [Israel’s chief rabbi] Rabbi Israel Meir Lau attempted to get Castro to allow kosher meat into Cuba. [Israeli diplomat Joel Barromi provided details to  Haaaretz writer Adi Schwartz in a 2006 interview.]  The Cuban leader had initially rejected Lau’s request to bring in kosher meat. “I told you that I am fighting against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in my country…do you want to make my people anti-Semitic,” Castro asked. “We have the practice of allocating 150 grams of bread a day, but the Jews in Cuba would have meat? [The people] will have a horrible hatred for them, envy them tremendously and loot their homes if under such conditions you see to import kosher meat for the Jews, you yourself create the anti-Semitism that I have been stopping.”

This is the example of supposedly stopping anti-semitism, to threaten Jews that if they should want to eat kosher meat that they would “create” anti-semitism. Castro was at first admitting that he had starved his country by putting it on bread rations, but surely Cubans eat some meat. So why would some meat for Jewish people “make” them anti-Semitic?  One wonders whether “envy” for Muslims eating Halal would create the same excuse for Islamophobia just because Muslims celebrate Eid by eating a sheep?  According to articles the same Cuba that feared meat would force people to be anti-semitic, was welcoming to Halal food.

Havana aided, trained, and armed terrorist groups that targeted Israel for destruction. Cuban troops were sent by Castro to the Middle East to fight against Israel, with the Yom Kippur War being a high profile example.

The few Jews remaining in Cuba continue to be subjected to antisemitism.

Olainis Tejada Beltrán, Yeliney Lescaille Prebal and their kids Liusdan Martínez Lescaille, Daniel Moises

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on December 23, 2019 reported that Liusdan Martínez Lescaille, a twelve year-old Jewish boy was forbidden by Cuban educational authorities from entering his school while wearing a kippah ( also known as a yarmulke) since December 11, 2019 with the result that he has been prevented from continuing his education. His younger brother, Daniel Moises, has also been subjected to the ban and government authorities threatened to open legal proceedings against his parents, jailing them and taking their children away, for "threatening the children’s normal development." CSW documented that Liusdan was regularly beaten up at school since the family moved to the Nuevitas municipality in 2016, and that the situation worsened in September 2019.

Many Cuban exiles have identified with the Jewish community that until 1948 would say “Next year in Jerusalem,” with their own hopeful lament of “Next year in Havana.”

This week has special significance for Cuban exiles. On April 13, 2022 Cuban exile, former prisoner of conscience and Plantado Basilio Guzmán Marrero passed away after a long illness. He was 84 years old.

On 7/10/19 Basilio Guzmán, others carry out vigil to protest 7/13/94 tugboat massacre.

Ten years ago on April 11, 2012 Cuban exiled Bishop Agustín Román died at age 83 in Miami, FL. This anniversary was observed in Miami with religious services and an OpEd by Archbishop Thomas Wenski in El Nuevo Herald

These two Cuban exiles loved Cuba and the Cuban people and wanted them to be free. Both Cubans in the diaspora and on the island understand this, but not some of the so-called Cuba experts in academia.

Bishop Agustín Román (May 5, 1928 - April 11, 2012) at La Ermita

Canadian Professor Peter McKenna would characterize both as being "anti-Cuba" because of their opposition to the Castro dictatorship. Professor McKenna's claim is Orwellian. Thankfully others in the Canadian academy challege this false narrative. Professor Yvon Grenier in his OpEd ”Since when are Cuban exiles anti-Cuba?” published in the Saltwire Network on April 15, 2022 sets the record straight.

In his April 5 opinion piece entitled “Sixty years of a misguided U.S. blockade of Cuba,” Prof. Peter McKenna characterizes many of the 1.3 million Cuban-Americans as being “anti-Cuba.” Do we ever say, by way of comparison, that members of Afghan or Guatemalan exile communities are “anti-Afghanistan” or “anti-Guatemala”? No government is its people — especially when the government is not chosen freely by its citizens.

Opposing the Castro dictatorship is thoroughly pro-Cuba. Bishop Agustín Román in a talk he gave on "The importance of the current internal dissident movement in Cuba" on December 16, 2006 argued love is the driving force to seek change in Cuba.

"If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it. If all of us who want the good of the nation, of the important internal dissident movement and the persevering of exile arm ourselves with these virtues, we will be effective. If we are committed to not let personalism, or the passions dilute them, we will have won. If we keep them and transmit them to all our people, we will have secured for Cuba a happy future."

Basilio Guzmán Marrero, who was jailed for 22 years, and tortured for most of that time in Cuban prisons, refused his whole life to cooperate with evil, and remained committed to a free Cuba. He fought against the dictatorships of Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro. Father Agustin Roman, together with many other clerics, was escorted at gunpoint out of Cuba on September 17, 1961. Neither Basilio or Father Román was "anti-Cuban" but they were profoundly anti-dictatorship and openly hostile to any manifestation of injustice.

Basilio holds poster of Mario De La Peña, killed by Castro 2/24/96, at Cuban Embassy in Wash DC on 2/20/20.

There is one authorized biography Pastor, Profeta, Patriarca (Pastor, Prophet, Patriarch) of Bishop Agustín Román, written by Daniel Shoer, a secular Jewish journalist. Shoer described what happened to Father Román after being forcibly deported at gunpoint in a December 27, 2015 article of Rocio Granados in La Voz Catolica.

“Put aboard a ship bound for Spain along with 130 other priests and religious, including the then auxiliary bishop of Havana, Eduardo Boza Masvidal, the transatlantic trek turned into a ‘high seas retreat’ where the religious exiles discerned that their new calling was to be missionaries to the Cuban diaspora.”

In 1966 Father Román arrived in Miami and oversaw the construction of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on Biscayne Bay that was completed in 1973. Bishop Román told Shoer of the challenge completing it.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything because in this country, you need money to build churches, and what we had were people picking tomatoes, working in the fields, in the factories, and all they could contribute were tarnished pennies.”

“Even more impressive, the shrine was completely paid for when it was built. ‘He said in the countryside (where he grew up) no one used credit,’ Shoer said”, in the December 27, 2015 article “New book tells life story of Bishop Agustín Román ‘Pastor, Prophet, Patriarch’ was authored by Jewish journalist, with bishop’s OK.” In 1979 Father Román became the first Cuban to be appointed a bishop in the U.S.

On 7/11/21 Basilio at Cuban Embassy (Wash DC) protesting Oswaldo Payá & Harold Cepero killings.

Basilio would protest the new injustices occurring in Cuba after his release and exile in 1984, the massacre of 37 men, women, and children on July 13, 1994 by Castro agents for trying to leave Cuba on the 13 de Marzo tugboat, the killing of four Brothers to the Rescue members on February 24, 1996 shot down in international airspace, and the killing of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. These are three of many examples.

Today it is up to the living to continue their legacy of integrity, love of country, desire for justice and pursuit of freedom for their homeland.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported on April 12, 2022 that Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo was sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2021. His family only learned of the decision last week, in a communication sent by Havana to the United Nations in response to a request for information regarding the pastor’s detention. He has two children. A son, David, aged 18, and a daughter, Lorena, aged 12. “Over the past nine months, He has only been permitted to see them, and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo, in a few fleeting visits to the maximum-security prison where he is currently being held.”  

Lorena, aged 12, David, aged 18, Rev Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, and Maridilegnis Carballo.

“Upon finally learning of her husband’s sentencing, Maridilegnis Carballo told CSW: ‘I don’t know if I can bear so much injustice and so many lies… how painful to see the disgraceful condition of the government of this nation… They know that we are all witnesses to their lies. They no longer even have the shame to hide their lies.’“

Regime apologists in academia and the pro-Castro lobby describe denouncing these injustices and efforts to cut off support for the secret police and military apparatus that carry them out as being “anti-Cuba.” The stark reality is that those who defend and romanticize the dictatorship are the ones that are “anti-Cuba” assisting a brutal tyranny to destroy an entire people. On the first night of Passover and Good Friday we remember those, like Basilio Guzmán Marrero and Bishop Agustín Román, who refused to cooperate with evil and endured suffering for the sake of the freedom of the Cuban people. May their courageous lives inspire many more to follow their path.

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