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Cuba: Christians labeled “counter-revolutionaries” for opposing reduction of religious freedom

In 2013, more than 80 members of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Greek Orthodox faithful journeyed to Cuba for a six-day pilgrimage to visit Havana’s Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The pilgrimage was sponsored by the Order and led by its spiritual advisor, Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The trip culminated in a celebration of the Feast of Saint Nicholas and took place under the auspices of His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras.

The trip was remarkable in the context of modern Cuba, where, as is clear from this article, Christians still face persecution. The Order prays and hopes that the spirit of generosity and openness that characterized the Cuban government’s stance during the pilgrimage will prevail, leading to full rights and religious freedom for the Orthodox Christians and all the Christians of Cuba.

“Cuba’s Christian counter-revolutionaries,” CSW, July 1, 2019:

In mid-February, Reverend Carlos Sebastián Hernandez was labelled a counter-revolutionary. His crime? Publicly opposing Cuba’s draft constitution, which reduces religious freedom protections. In response, Rev Hernandez told CSW, ‘I have total confidence that, even in Cuba, God reigns. Pray for me and my family. My wife and I have spoken and prayed because at any moment they could take me prisoner.’

The church leaders who publicly opposed the draft constitution have come under severe pressure, including being banned from receiving foreign visitors.

On 24 February, the Cuban people voted in favour of a new constitution that significantly weakened protections for freedom of religion or belief and freedom of conscience. In an attempt to participate in a public consultation on the draft, a cross-denominational group of church leaders representing the largest Protestant denominations submitted a draft proposal to the National Assembly in the months before the referendum, with improved language on freedom of religion and conscience. The Cuban Catholic Bishops’ Conference also raised similar concerns.

The government ignored them all, and the draft constitution retained the problematic language. Article 15 of the new constitution now reads: ‘The Cuban State is secular [laico]. In the Republic of Cuba the religious institutions and fraternal associations are separate from the State and all have the same rights and responsibilities. The different beliefs and religions enjoy equal treatment.’ The failure to define ‘rights and responsibilities’ opens the door to abuse by the authorities.

An unprecedented campaign

The potential threat posed by Article 15 did not go unnoticed by the churches on the island – in an unprecedented show of unity, denominations banded together in a campaign to oppose the draft constitution, despite the harassment and intimidation that this stance brought them. Since the referendum, the church leaders who publicly opposed the draft constitution have come under severe pressure, including being banned from receiving foreign visitors. A number of pastors associated with the Apostolic Movement, including Pastors Alain Toledano and Marcos Perdomo, have been cited and interrogated by police. In Granma, a pastor with the Nazarene Church reported that he received notice that the property where his church has been located for 20 years is being confiscated….

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