Cuba’s communist government has increased its oppression of religious institutions, according to a Christian watchdog group, with reports of religious liberty violations almost doubling in the last six months.
According to a new report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), there were 170 religious freedom violations from the start of 2014 through mid-July. In 2013, there were only 180 incidents documented. This year’s violations included government authorities beating pastors and lay workers, dragging politically dissident women away from Sunday services, and enforcing arbitrary detentions, church closures, and demolitions, CSW said.
Todd Nettleton, with Voice of the Martyrs, agreed that government persecution is on the rise in Cuba.
“It does seem like the government is paying more attention to the churches and making much of a concerted effort to control religious expression in Cuba,” Nettleton said. Although the government has not given a reason for the crackdown, Nettleton suggested President Raul Castro could be more hostile to Christianity than his brother, or more aware of it. The government might also be looking at the church and sensing a need to assert control.
While the government of the once-atheist country is communist, Cuba’s constitution claims to allow religious freedom: “The State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious liberty.” But that right, as well as others, are ignored if the government claims they conflict with communism, CSW said.
Article 62 of the Cuban constitution declares: “No recognized liberty may be exercised against the existence and aims of the socialist State and the nation’s determination to build socialism and communism.”
The Cuban Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) has authority over all religious groups in Cuba and it has a “consistently antagonistic relationship” with many of those groups, CSW notes in its report. Roughly 56 percent of Cubans identify as Christian, according to Operation World.
CSW said most of the cases of women being detained and forced to miss church were Roman Catholics and Ladies in White, a political dissident group made up of women related to political prisoners.
Churches also are often pressured and threatened by the government to expel congregants the government considers political dissidents. Churches that resist “are under constant and intrusive government surveillance,” CSW said. Roman Catholic priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre’s refusal to shun individuals the government wants to keep socially isolated led to the state installing video cameras to watch his home and church. His email accounts have also been blocked.
CSW said protestant leaders are often threatened with having their churches closed if they refuse to expel and shun certain people. Government reprisals also have included frozen bank accounts, harassment and violence.
Cuban Christians live with the daily threat that everything, including their educational opportunities and employment, could be taken away, Nettleton said. Students could be kicked out of school without cause, flunked even if they have straight A’s, or be refused the diploma they earned. They are constantly pressured to leave the church and follow the government, Nettleton said.
Since 1959, the Cuban government has planted informants within churches and religious groups to report anything critical of the state or deemed “counter-revolutionary.”