Communist Cuba still no friend to faith

Cuba | Renewed relations with the United States haven’t helped Cuba’s persecuted Christians
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 8/22/16, 12:32 pm

The restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Communist Cuba in 2015 has not yet improved human rights or religious freedom abuses for Cubans.

Instead, some watchdog groups say the repression increased in 2016, and they called on other countries to pressure Cuba over its actions.

“In terms of [Cuba’s] domestic politics, the re-establishment of ties hasn’t had any positive impact,” Elizardo Sánchez, founder of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told Andrés Oppenheimer of The Miami Herald. The commission saw political detentions increase ahead of President Barack Obama’s March 2016 visit.

Sánchez also told Oppenheimer, “after Obama’s speech in Havana, which was very good, the government started a campaign to discredit the U.S. president, which was started by Fidel Castro himself. They hope to erase the memory of Obama’s speech from Cubans’ memory, and to continue improving ties with the outside world while maintaining an iron fist at home.”

Authorities also tried to stifle Christian churches. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported Cuban authorities cracked down on Christians during the first half of the year, increasing church demolitions and harassing worshippers. Authorities also continued to use a zoning law to seize church property.

CSW’s new report revealed that from January through June, Cuba committed 1,606 separate religious freedom violations including church demolitions, destruction of church property, arrests without warrants, house arrests, detentions, harassment, and more. In 2015, the government declared 2,000 Assemblies of God churches illegal and began trying to confiscate property from 1,400 of them. They remain in danger of seizure in spite of verbal commitments to the contrary.

In 2016, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) again placed Cuba on its Tier 2 watch list of countries that violate religious rights because of continued government threats against churches, harassment of religious leaders, government controls, and surveillance of religious groups. It has been on Tier 2 since 2004.

According to USCIRF, one of the ways Cuba limits freedom of religion and belief is with an “Abuse of Liberty of Worship” clause that permits the government to jail anyone it says “abuses” religious freedom “by placing religious beliefs in conflict with other state goals.”

Cuba signed but has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which CSW’s report said “further demonstrates the government’s lack of commitment to upholding human rights.”

Oppenheimer called on Latin American democracies to denounce Cuba’s dictatorship and the world at large to demand Cuba replace human rights abuses with freedoms of speech, assembly, and elections.

CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas also urged the international community to “stand in solidarity with Cuban citizens,” to press the Cuban government to stop repressing its people and make religious freedom part of any diplomatic dialogue with Cuba.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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