Cuba Attacks Religious Believers Even As It Liberalizes Economic Rules
By DOUG BANDOW
The Obama administration has been easing restrictions on travel,
exports, and export financing. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke
of "building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship."
However, the administration expressed concern over Havana's dismal human
rights practices. Despite the warm reception given Pope Francis last
fall, the Castro regime has been on the attack against Cubans of faith.
In a new report the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide warned of "an
unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum,"
which has "fueled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion
or belief." There were 220 specific violations of religious liberties in
2014, but 2300 last year, many of which "involved entire churches or, in
the cases of arrests, dozens of victims."
Even in the best of times the Castros have never been friends of faith
in anything other than themselves. The State Department's 2014 report on
religious liberty noted that "the government harassed outspoken
religious leaders and their followers, including reports of beating,
threats, detentions, and restrictions on travel. Religious leaders
reported the government tightened controls on financial resources."
Last year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was
similarly critical. The Commission explained: "Serious religious freedom
violations continue in Cuba, despite improvements for
government-approved religious groups." Never mind the papal visit, "the
government continues to detain and harass religious leaders and laity,
interfere in religious groups' internal affairs, and prevent democracy
and human rights activists from participating in religious activities."
Now CSW has issued its own report. Last year's increase in persecution
"was largely due to the government declaring 2000 Assemblies of God
(AoG) churches illegal, ordering the closure or demolition of 100 AoG
churches in three provinces, and expropriating the properties of a
number of other denominations, including the Methodist and Baptist
This wide-ranging campaign was led by the Office of Religious Affairs.
Noted CSW: "In 2015, the ORA continued to deny authorization for a
number of religious activities and in cooperation with other government
agencies, issued fines and threats of confiscation to dozens of churches
and religious organizations."
Through the ORA the Communist Party exercises control over religious
activities. Indeed, reported CSW, the Office "exists solely to monitor,
hinder and restrict the activities of religious groups."
The regime also has increasingly targeted church leaders and
congregants, for the first time in years jailing one of the former. In
early January two churches were destroyed, church members arrested, and
three church leaders held incommunicado. One of the government's more
odious practices, according to CSW, has been to threaten churches with
closure if they "do not comply with government demands to expel and shun
The regime's destructive activities have been justified as enforcing
zoning laws. But in practice the measure is a subterfuge to shut down
Other legislation threatens house churches. While not consistently
implemented in the past, "church leaders have repeatedly expressed
concern at its potential to close down a large percentage of house
CSW concluded that the ongoing crackdown was an attempt to limit calls
for social reform which would complement ongoing, though limited,
economic changes. Detentions initially were concentrated on "Cubans
considered by the government to be political dissidents," including a
group of Catholic women called the Ladies in White. The regime crackdown
later "expanded to include other individuals associated with independent
civil society, including human rights and democracy activists."
The Obama administration was right to engage Cuba. After more than 50
years, the embargo serves no useful purpose.
However, even lifting all economic restrictions won't turn Cuba into a
democracy. Only sustained pressure from within and without Cuba is
likely to force the Castro regime to yield control to the Cuban people.
As I wrote in Forbes: "Americans should forthrightly encourage freedom
in Cuba. Religious believers should be particularly vocal in supporting
people seeking to live out their faith under Communist oppression. Some
day autocracy will give way to liberty even in Cuba."
Source: Cuba Attacks Religious Believers Even As It Liberalizes Economic
Rules | Cato @ Liberty -