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The struggle for religious freedom in Cuba

Cuba Credit: Nick Kenrick/Flickr/Creative Commons

Cuba Credit: Nick Kenrick/Flickr/Creative Commons

Though still a communist nation, in 1992, the Cuba government reclassified itself as a secular nation under its constitution instead of an atheistic one. At the same time, it also partially lifted restrictions on religion and since then Christianity has seen remarkable growth in that country.

The country’s current ruler, Raul Castro, the brother of Fidel who died in November 2016, actually attended a Jesuit school before the 1959 Communist revolution. He has been in charge in Cuba since 2011.

Under his rule, the Catholic church has retained some favor with the government and in 2014, Cuba allowed a Catholic church in Santiago to construct a new building. It was the first church built in Cuba since the 1959 Communist revolution.

The government has also declared Christmas and Good Friday as national holidays.

In 2015, President Raul met with Pope Francis and after his meeting commented that he was seriously thinking of going back to church. When reporters laughed, Raul stated, “I’m serious.”

But there still remains a tension between the government and Christians. In an interview with a British Newspaper, The Guardian,  Rev Roberto Betancourt who leads  Our Lady of Regla Roman Catholic Church said:

“There is freedom of worship now, yes. But that’s not the same as freedom of religion.”

Evangelical churches are also experiencing rapid growth with thousands of new churches forming in living rooms of homes across the country.

Open Doors USA estimates that 57% of Cubans are Christians. These numbers are similar to the results of a poll that Univision conducted in 2015 that showed 56% of Cubans considered themselves as part of a religious group. However, only 27% ticked off Catholicism as their religion of choice.

Many of the evangelical house churches are independent with no, or very limited, hierarchical structures. Often they are loosely connected to American organizations and because of this the government has tried to organize these groups into larger organizations so it can exert some control. But it has been largely unsuccessful.

The Pentecostal groups have been particularly popular with Cubans because of their lively worship and emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

Yet despite, or maybe because of Christianity’s resurgence, there is still a tension between the government and Christians. In 2016, a Christian organization called Biblica, a Latin American Bible publisher, shipped 17,000 NIV Bibles to Cuba. However, the shipment was rejected and returned to Miami.

According to the Spanish-speaking Marti News, the government told Biblica it would now only allow King James Bibles into the country. The organization had previously shipped in 31,000 Bibles after the government reversed its restrictions on printing new Bibles in 2015.

There is a huge demand for Bibles in Cuba as there is only one for every six people.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization that monitors religious freedoms, has noticed an increase in the number of religious freedom violations in Cuba since 2011.

It reported 325 such violations in 2017.  This included the arrest of Misael Diaz Paseiro who the government charged with “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” When he was arrested the government seized several Bibles and crucifixes from his home. The government sentenced Paseiro to three and a half years in jail in January 2018.



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