CUBA

U.S. report says religious freedom in Cuba is bad but getting better

 

A U.S. State Department report says religious leaders admit they censor themselves when they preach.

jtamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

Cuban government restrictions on religion remain severe although they have been eased on several fronts over the past year, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on freedom of religion around the world.

“In China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, religious activity was only lawful if explicitly authorized by the state,” said the executive summary of the country-by-country report, made public on Monday.

The report confirmed a recent trend toward expanded freedom on the practice of religion in Cuba — officially atheist from 1962 to 1992 — alongside continued tight controls in those places where religion intersects with politics.

“This report parallels what I have been hearing from Cuba — more freedom but no politics … unless they agree with the government,” said Marcos Antonio Ramos, a retired Miami pastor and historian of religion.

Most of the religious groups on the island reported reduced government interference in attracting new members, conducting services, importing religious materials and receiving donations from overseas, the State Department reported.

They also found it easier to conduct charitable, educational and community service projects, it added, including health and nutrition assistance to the elderly and after-school classes for children.

Government officials made it easier to bring in foreign religious workers and restore houses of worship, and returned several church properties confiscated in the 1960s, according to the report.

However, the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), “monitors and regulates almost every aspect of religious life,” the report said.

Government officials “harassed outspoken religious leaders, prevented human rights activists from attending religious services, and in some cases employed violence to prevent activists from engaging in public political protests” after services, it added.

The government also routinely detained members of the dissident group Ladies in White to prevent them from attending Catholic Mass on Sundays, especially in the provinces of Matanzas, Holguin, Villa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba, according to the report.

“Most religious leaders reported they exercised self-censorship in what they preached” out of fear of government reprisals, it said. And some groups said the government seized and distributed assistance sent to them for victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

A national TV program on Nov. 12 called evangelical churches “subversive organizations” and “part of a grand plan by the U.S. government to undermine the Cuban government,” according to the report.

Some religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not officially recognized, and members are subject to “pervasive monitoring of their movements, telephone calls, visitors, and religious meetings.”

Most of the so-called “home churches” established because of a lack of buildings have never been officially recognized but operate with little or no interference from the government, the report said.

The Roman Catholic Church runs two seminaries and the island nation has several interfaith centers for educating pastors, it said, but Cuba does not allow religious grammar or high schools or universities.

The State Department said the Roman Catholic Church claims that 60 percent to 70 percent of all Cubans were baptized and estimated membership in Protestant churches at 5 percent of the country’s 11 million population, with Baptists and Pentecostals likely the largest.

Many Cubans also practice religions rooted in Africa but mixed with elements of Catholicism, such as Santeria, making it difficult to estimate membership, the State Department reported.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
This is the raft on which 16 Cubans sailed from Cuba to Alligator Reef Light off Upper Matecumbe Key this week.

    THE KEYS

    Cuban migrants found suffering from dehydration off the Keys

    Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.

  •  
Sixteen migrants are found crammed in this tiny boat around Alligator Lighthouse, which is about four miles offshore of Islamorada in the FLorida Keys.

    IMMIGRATION

    More than a dozen Cuban migrants rescued at sea in Keys; several taken to hospital

    A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

  •  
Elsa Lopez looks at her clothes and shoes she wore when she left Cuba with her parents at the age of two at the time. Her items are among several donated by Exiles on display at the VIP opening and presentation of the The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom, at the Freedom Tower. The exhibit is a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States, organized and curated by the Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald, on Wednesday September 10, 2014.

    MIAMI

    Exhibition chronicles Cuban exiles story

    More than 1,000 people crammed into the Freedom Tower Wednesday night for a peek at an exhibition that honors one of the city’s oldest buildings – and captures the tales of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island and made Miami their new home.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category