CubaBrief: False Normality in Cuba. Proposed Penal Code Further Subverts Cubans’ Rights. Labor unions serve regime not workers. Religious Repression: A Case Study

Cuban independent journalist Irina Echarry writes about the Castro regime wanting to project the idea of normality in her article “False Normality in Cuba” published in the HAVANA TIMES, “to sell us the image that life in Cuba is all proceeding calmly. Everything circulating on social media that they didn’t pen, or that doesn’t please them, is a lie.”

The Cuban dictatorship is incredibly effective in two areas: its secret police, and its propaganda apparatus. The propaganda apparatus floods social media with regime talking points, and falsehoods.

Meanwhile, if one wants to know what is happening in Cuba, one must show great discernment, and read the independent media. Trials continue on the island, but so are acts of rebelliousness. During the political show trial of thirty three 11J protesters on February 4, 2022 in the 10 de Octubre Municipal Court, one of them stood up “in a Havana courtroom and shouted for freedom for all,” according to a February 8, 2022 report in 14ymedio and relatives of the defendants began to applaud and were quickly removed, together with the defense attorneys.

These outbursts are unnerving for governing elites.

The dictatorship is seeking to pass a new penal code that will seek to further prevent Cubans being able to express themselves, or criticize the government. “The draft version of the new Cuban Penal Code affirms that the State, the Government and the Communist Party (PCC) stand above the Cuban people. It also protects regime followers who participate in the repression of dissidents and critical citizens, and shields Castroism and its institutions from possible expressions of popular dissatisfaction,” reports Lucía Alfonso Mirabal in Diario de Cuba. She examines how 14 of the articles worsen, an already terrible situation in Cuba for human rights. Here is one of them.

Article 23.5 establishes that “a person acts in legitimate self-defense when he prevents or adequately repels a danger or imminent or actual harm to the peace, or to the property or social interests of the State.” These people are exempted from criminal liability, which eliminates any future possibility of prosecuting those who harm Cubans protesting against the regime, as occurred on July 11, when “revolutionaries,” in response to Miguel Díaz-Canel’s call, assaulted demonstrators.

Cuban journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones has written an article in Diario de Cuba of Cuba’s labor unions titled “The CTC is a repressive instrument at the service of Castroism” that exposes the reality that workers in Cuba do not have a right to collective bargaining, but only to obey edicts of the dictatorship.

“An encyclopedia defines a union as ‘an association composed of workers to defend and promote their labor interests vis-a-vis their employers.’ In other words, the official Cuban unions, especially in the state sector, are the very antithesis of what a union is. They are no such thing. In Cuba unions have two clear missions: firstly, to fulfill the Leninist dogma that unions are mechanisms by which to impart to workers the orders of the dictatorial elite, the bosses; and, secondly, to organize brigades of henchmen in them, the latter a contribution of the Castro brothers to totalitarianism, whether communist, fascist or theocratic.”

Not only are labor rights non-existent in Cuba, but religious freedoms are also curtailed. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) ‘s blog Freedom of Religion or Belief in full on February 7, 2022 examined the case of Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente and the fact that in 2022 the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), part of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), continues to regulate religious affairs and routinely commits violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente in a September 2020 interview with CSW described how he was left homeless by the Castro regime.

‘We were evicted for the first time in 2007. The government came into our house [and] threw us out into the street – they took everything from us and threw it into the street. We were left homeless. At the same time, the government demolished our place of worship, Emanuel Church. They destroyed the floor and took it away. They left everything in ruins. They confiscated our land. This was the first violation of that scale. They demolished everything and took everything from us, our family possessions, music and audio equipment. Everything the church had was seized, all our technology was taken away. The church was left without land, its property and possessions, without a place to worship and we were left homeless in the street.’

Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente

This is not normal. This is a totalitarian dictatorship that has terrorized Cubans for 63 years, and seeks to perpetuate itself in power.  Time for the international community to side with Cubans, not their oppressors.

Havana Times, February 10, 2022

False Normality in Cuba

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

By Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban government wants to project the idea of normality, to sell us the image that life in Cuba is all proceeding calmly. Everything circulating on social media that they didn’t pen, or that doesn’t please them, is a lie.

All criticisms of the system are part of an enemy plot to destabilize the revolutionary process, hence the one criticizing is a mercenary, traitor, or criminal. Any questioning is financed by the United States – as if Cubans had no criteria of their own nor any power of discernment.

The official line says that everything is fine, but reality betrays them. The pressure from the social networks, independent media and activists forced the Attorney General’s Office to make a public statement regarding the trials being held for those who protested on July 11th. In January 2022, they published a report with statistics on those detained due to the events of July 2021, even though a database initiated by civil society already existed, set up just days after the repression began.

The same pressures forced the government to include a report on the trials in their National Television News Program, since many have confirmed that these trials are a farce. It was a horrible news segment, where a few women – mothers and wives – begged pardon for what their family members had done, agreed they should pay for their mistakes, and assured they’d been spontaneously drawn into the excitement. “You must never attempt any actions against the revolution,” stated one mother. Who knows what they promised her, since her son is facing a possible sentence of over ten years in jail?

They’ve set up an entire media circus to disprove the independent media and the prisoners’ relatives, who day by day denounce the arbitrary acts being committed against their children – many of them teenagers who are being tried for the political crime of sedition.

For their part, the government is ignoring the hunger strikes some of the prisoners are holding in the jails, and insist that the trials are being conducted under strict legal norms. However, these trials are certainly not public, and the relatives or friends who cluster outside the courthouses with the hope of seeing their loved ones, of seeing justice done, are met with an entire repressive scenario.

The family members and friends that denounce these things are harassed, threatened, detained. What mother doesn’t fight for their children when she feels they’re in danger? How is it possible that they’re threatened for posting on social media?

The normality they want to sell is based on manipulation, half-truths, outright lies and violence.

Meanwhile, out on the streets, people wait in long lines under sun and cold for everything; or make their way through the illicit market offers, where prices have gone through the roof. Oblivious, the authorities with their prominent bellies and rosy cheeks plead for sacrifice, speak of future plans and better laws, when they themselves don’t even respect their own Constitution.

They’re making a mockery of the right to demonstrate, as the events of July 11 made clear. On that occasion, the President issued a call to combat and sent the military out to confront the public. After repressing the protests, they jailed hundreds of people, including minors: some for throwing rocks at the soldiers who were firing bullets. They didn’t even consider levying simple fines – they charged them with the crime of sedition, or attack on a public functionary, because what they’re punishing isn’t the rock thrown, it’s the demonstration and the audacity of going out to protest.

They may continue holding festivals, conferences, fairs or carnivals, but there are ever fewer people who believe in them. Life isn’t proceeding normally on a foundation of harassment, banishment or jail for those who question them. They continue widening the gap that separates them from the people, those they’re supposed to serve.

Read more by Irina Echarry here.

https://havanatimes.org/diaries/irina-echarry/false-normality-in-cuba/

Diario de Cuba, February 10, 2022

Laws

14 Articles in the Proposed Penal Code Subvert Cubans’ Rights

It legalizes on paper, for example, acts of repudiation and aggression against Cubans who express their disagreement with the regime.

Lucía Alfonso Mirabal

La Habana 10 Feb 2022

Illustration inspired by what the new Penal Code will mean for Cubans. Diario de Cuba

The draft version of the new Cuban Penal Code affirms that the State, the Government and the Communist Party (PCC) stand above the Cuban people. It also protects regime followers who participate in the repression of dissidents and critical citizens, and shields Castroism and its institutions from possible expressions of popular dissatisfaction. If approved, the code would mean a step backwards in terms of rights for Cubans. We analyze 14 articles that demonstrate this.

Article 19, on juridical persons, establishes that criminal liability is enforceable against non-State entities, but excludes “political, social and mass organizations recognized by the State, in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba and other laws.”

Article 23.5 establishes that “a person acts in legitimate self-defense when he prevents or adequately repels a danger or imminent or actual harm to the peace, or to the property or social interests of the State.”

These people are exempted from criminal liability, which eliminates any future possibility of prosecuting those who harm Cubans protesting against the regime, as occurred on July 11, when “revolutionaries,” in response to Miguel Díaz-Canel’s call, assaulted demonstrators.

If these “revolutionaries” go too far “the court may reduce the sanction by up to two thirds of its minimum limit,” and if it concludes that “this excess has been committed because of excitement or violent emotion incited by the aggression, it may dispense with imposing any sanction,” the Article states.

Article 24.1, on the state of necessity, absolves of criminal liability “whoever acts in order to prevent an imminent danger that threatens his own person or that of another, or a social or individual good, whatever it may be, if the danger could not be prevented in any other way (…)”.

This could serve to legally justify acts of repudiation, with the argument that those who perpetrate them are acting to prevent the danger posed by Cubans who, according to the official discourse, are mercenaries at the service of the United States seeking to destabilize internal order.

Article 80 considers it an aggravating circumstance for any crime to be committed against a person who fulfills a “… legal or social duty, or in revenge or retaliation for his or her actions;” for example, injuring those who perform an act of repudiation or respond to a call such as Díaz-Canel’s during the 11J, would be an aggravating factor.

Article 119.3 provides for penalties of 7 to 15 years imprisonment for anyone who attempts to change, totally or partially, the Constitution of the Republic, or the form of government established by it, or to prevent the President, Vice-President of the Republic or the highest organs of the State and the Government from exercising their functions “by means of violence or other illicit means.” It does not clarify what these “illicit means” would be.

Article 120 criminalizes the exercise of rights recognized in the Constitution, if it endangers “the constitutional order and the normal functioning of the State and the Cuban Government.” The penalty for those who “arbitrarily exercise” these rights is four to ten years in prison.

This article of the bill is one of the most dangerous to civil society and Cubans in general, as it outlaws any peaceful attempt to seek democracy in Cuba.

Furthermore, it constitutes a harbinger of what Cubans can expect from the future Law for the Protection of Constitutional Rights: nothing. In the face of any violation of a constitutional right, the regime will be able to cite the “arbitrary” nature of the exercise of that right.

Article 143 criminalizes any funding —not only from the United States, as stipulated in Law 88 or the Gag Law— for what the authorities consider “activities against the State and its constitutional order,” with these not being limited to terrorist actions.

This article not only imposes up to 10 years imprisonment for those who finance or receive financing, but even for those who “support” or “encourage” these supposed activities against the State and its constitutional order.

Article 185.1 on the crime of contempt, which the regime routinely wields against the opposition and civil society, stipulates prison sentences of six months to one year or a fine of one hundred to three hundred pesos, or both, for “whoever threatens, slanders, defames, insults or in any way affronts or offends, by word or in writing, in their dignity or decorum, a public official, authority or their agents or assistants, in the exercise of their functions or on occasion or because of them.”

In the current Code it constitutes an aggravating circumstance and the sanction increases from one to three years when the contempt is against the president or vice-president of the Republic, the president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, other members of the Council of State, or the Council of Ministers and the deputies of the National Assembly of Popular Power.

This now extends to the president of the People’s Supreme Court, the Attorney General of the Republic, the Comptroller General of the Republic and the president of the National Electoral Council.

Article 263.1 perfects, in the interest of the regime, the formulation of the crime of disturbing the peace in such a way that even Cubans who go to a ministry or institution to ask for dialogue or raise a concern could be charged.

It provides for imprisonment of six months to two years, or a fine of two hundred to five hundred pesos, or both, for “whoever “through acts of violence, intimidation or provocation, violates the rights of others, or affects the order, peace and tranquility of families, the community or society.”

According to Article 263.3, the penalty is three to eight years imprisonment if c) public roads or access points to them are obstructed in a manner dangerous to those who use them; and d) during their execution, invade facilities or buildings.

It is not necessary, however, to use violence to be accused of public disorder; it is enough that the acts be “provocative,” and the regime usually considers “provocative” any sign of discontent or disagreement with the economic, political and social model in place in Cuba.

Article 274.1 establishes penalties of imprisonment of six months to two years, or a fine of two hundred to five hundred pesos, or both, for “the promoters, organizers or directors of an association whose constitution was not authorized.”

Until now, founding or directing a non-legally recognized organization did not constitute a crime. Henceforth, according to the bill, not only their organizers, directors and promoters, but also their associates and affiliates will be committing a crime. For the latter, Article 274.2 provides for prison sentences of six months to one year, or a fine of one hundred to three hundred pesos, or both.

Article 275.1 provides for imprisonment from six months to one year for anyone who participates in meetings or demonstrations held in violation of the provisions regulating the exercise of these rights.

For the organizers, it provides for a penalty of six months to two years imprisonment, or a fine of three hundred to five hundred pesos, or both.

However, these provisions are an unknown without the approval of the Law on Demonstration and Assembly, which is not within the schedule set in late 2021.

Article 431.3, Section H, provides for six months to one year of imprisonment, or a fine of two hundred to five hundred pesos, or both, for anyone who “promotes or induces abstention among persons entitled to vote.”

In 2019 the regime campaigned intensely for Cubans to vote “Yes” in the referendum on the new Constitution. Those who tried to promote the opposite option, or abstention, suffered harassment or short-term arrests, but, as they could not be charged with any crime, they had to be released. Now the crime exists, as only the regime can promote, and even induce, a form of voting among citizens.

Other articles of the bill are as pernicious as these, but they do not constitute a step backwards, because they already exist in the current Penal Code and the regime intends to keep them.

The death penalty is retained for crimes against the external security of the State, against the internal security of the State, other acts contrary to the security of the State, and for murder.

The fact that the bill eliminates capital punishment for rape, pederasty, violent robbery and forced entry burglary may seem to be a step forward. However, the bill makes it clear that, unlike the penal codes in other countries, in which the most severely punished crimes are those committed against people, and freedom, in Cuba the State is placed above the person, since the harshest penalties are for the aforementioned crimes against the external and internal security of the State. And we already know that even a protest can be considered a crime of this type, as the accusations of sedition against Cubans who demonstrated on July 11 have shown.

Finally, the regime will be able to continue to try minors as adults, since criminal responsibility will continue to be enforced from the age of 16, according to the draft Penal Code.

https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1644510068_37403.html

Diario de Cuba, February 9, 2022

Politics

The CTC is a repressive instrument at the service of Castroism

Since 1959, unions in Cuba have not served the interests of workers. Rather, they have served as brigades of henchmen.

Roberto Álvarez Quiñones

Los Ángeles 09 Feb 2022 – 17:13 CET

A May Day parade in Havana. Radio Reloj

Seriously, are there trade unions in Cuba today? Is there really a Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC)? Do they represent and defend workers? Were the unions before 1959 forced to create brigades of henchmen for the Batista dictatorship?

Questions such as these come to the fore recently when the CTC initiated, at all state labor centers, a process of assemblies as a “practical exercise to validate the mobilizing role of the unions” and for the workers to be “material and intellectual protagonists of the processes of production and services,” and to achieve “success” at each work center, explained  the CTC’s Secretary General Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento.

Two things should be noted from the outset: 1) these assemblies are not convened to critically examine the deplorable conditions under which Cuban workers toil, nor the paltry wages they are paid; and 2) the phrase “mobilizing role of the unions” means that after the events of 11J and 15N more pressure is being placed on the unions to force workers to be repressors at the service of the dictatorship.

We are talking about the 18 unions that the CTC has in more than 78,000 union sections with 3.3 million members, of which more than 250,000 work in the private sector.

An encyclopedia defines a union as “an association composed of workers to defend and promote their labor interests vis-a-vis their employers.”

In other words, the official Cuban unions, especially in the state sector, are the very antithesis of what a union is. They are no such thing. In Cuba unions have two clear missions: firstly, to fulfill the Leninist dogma that unions are mechanisms by which to impart to workers the orders of the dictatorial elite, the bosses; and, secondly, to organize brigades of henchmen in them, the latter a contribution of the Castro brothers to totalitarianism, whether communist, fascist or theocratic.

The Castroist CTC is much worse than Mujal’s CTC

When Fidel Castro seized power one of the first things he did, on January 22, 1959, was to order the dismissal of the so-called mujalista leaders of the CTC and its unions and federations, down to the very grassroots level, throughout the country.

The words mujalista and mujalismo were derived from Eusebio Mujal, a former communist activist and later radical anti-communist and senator of the Republic for the Authentic Party (Partido Auténtico), who in 1947 became the secretary general of the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) when, under the governments of Ramón Grau San Martín and Carlos Prío the communists were dislodged from the control they had maintained since the founding of the CTC in 1939. Mujal was the secretary general of the CTC until January 1, 1959, when, due to his close ties to the Batista dictatorship, he took refuge at the Argentine embassy, and then left the country.

While Mujal was supported and sustained, in good measure, as the leader of the CTC by three successive governments, Fidel Castro went even further. Just 12 days after arriving in Havana he took over the CTC by means of a law he invented, appointed himself head of the National Council of the CTC, called a congress in November 1959, and placed the CTC at the exclusive service of his personal dictatorship. Then, in November 1961 he installed Lázaro Peña as its general secretary at another congress at which Castro I ordered the dismissal of several CTC leaders who were not submissive enough to him, and decided that the organization should be called the Central (instead of Confederation) of Cuban Workers.

The official Castroist website Ecured says of Mujal: “A Cuban trade union leader who was corrupt and sold out to the interests of the bosses (…), he faithfully served Fulgencio Batista until he fled.”

Labor exploitation worsens and unions are used as repressors

Are not the CTC, its general secretary, and the official Castroist unions more sold out than ever before to bosses, and at the service of a totalitarian dictatorship infinitely worse than Batista’s?

Under Castroism, the union movement grovels before its bosses. It prevents workers from demanding better wages in an organized manner despite their measly earnings, which no longer allow them to even buy basic groceries for their families. Raul Castro‘s CTC exacerbates the poverty and dramatic want suffered by the Cuban people.

Also, very importantly, it is one thing to say that Mujal and many union leaders were obedient to Batista, but it is quite another to say that all the unions were submissive to the bosses; in the 1950s, during Cuba‘s greatest economic expansion, unions, in fact, obtained benefits and wage increases from their bosses.

And, before that, in the 1930s and 1940s, they made progress that was included in the 1940 Constitution? which Castro I abolished on February 7, 1959 with the Fundamental Law (drafted by him with the help of Osvaldo Dorticós) that replaced it.

Among the workers’ achievements stipulated in that constitution, one of the most advanced of its time, was an eight-hour workday, the right to strike, minimum wages according to agreements between employees and employers, and the settlement of labor disputes through commissions made up of employers and workers, in addition to others.

But the worst thing about Castro’s “unionism,” which constitutes a crime, is that it obliges workers, in writing, to become street henchmen when the dictator so orders; this is the “mobilizing role” mentioned by Guilarte de Nacimiento, alluding to mobilizing workers as repressive forces in the streets.

In April 2010 the PCC imposed on the CTC a “Plan against alterations of order and counterrevolutionary disturbances” (PAODC). “Rapid Response Units” (DRR) were created at each work center, without uniforms, to give the world the impression that they are civilians outraged by the actions of the “counterrevolutionaries.”

There is an aggravating factor here: when the Rapid Response Brigades (BRR) were formed in the unions in the 1990s, workers were not required to sign any official document, which allowed many to avoid taking to the streets.  Now, however, they have to sign a paper in which they commit to beating fellow citizens who demonstrate peacefully against the dictatorship.

Through the PAODC, the regime handed out sticks and even rifles to state workers to go out and pummel peaceful demonstrators in July 2021, and it organized them into brigades to batter those who took to the streets on November 15, 2021.

Never before in the West, as far as we know, has anything like this been seen. Batista did not do this in Cuba, nor Machado before him. Not even Pinochet or Alfredo Stroessner did. Hitler’s brownshirts and Mussolini’s blackshirts wore uniforms, were voluntary, and also included criminals and opportunists in search of personal benefits. They were not unionized workers forced by the regime.

Neither did Stalin. In the USSR those who repressed, murdered and tortured people wore uniforms. They were not workers forced by trade unions to do so.  Mao Tse Tung did not force workers and their unions to be “red guard” inquisitors, murderers and torturers during the “Cultural Revolution.” Rather, they were young, ideologically alienated fanatics; whether they were volunteers or not, and all wore military uniforms.

In short, the Castroist CTC is much worse than the Mujal’s CTC, and than all the previous ones in the history of Cuba, and probably worse than any other trade union in recent world history. It is, without a doubt, a national disgrace.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1644423215_37380.html

14ymedio, February 8, 2022

An 11th July Detainee Stood Up in a Havana Courtroom and Shouted for Freedom for All

All the policemen, says Yudinela Castro, “seemed to have agreed on one point, and that was that they had not been given pistols to attend the marches, that they were not armed.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 8 February 2022 — Around three in the afternoon last Friday, when the trial of 33 of the July 11th protestors in the Municipal Court of Diez de Octubre, in Havana was almost over, one of them stood up and shouted for freedom for all.

On seeing the unusual gesture, according to Yudinela Castro Pérez, the mother of 18-year-old Rowland Jesús Castillo, one of the defendants, tells 14ymedio, “immediately, the relatives began to applaud and they took us out of the room together with the defense attorneys.  

Castro, present that day in court, as on Tuesday and Wednesday, considers that the defendants’ defense attorneys “did a very good job.”

“They defended the young people one hundred percent, they fought hard,” the woman stresses to this newspaper, who expects the sentences to be announced this week, “because at most they said it could take up to five business days.”

On Wednesday, the Prosecutor’s Office had lowered the sentences requested for the youngest of the group, including that of Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro, who initially faced 23 years in prison, which was reduced to 12 years. “I am hopeful, because hope is the last thing that is lost, that the sentence against my son continues to fall.”

“Still, I feel heartbroken, because these seven months that he has already serves in prison, he should not have spent them in prison,” says the mother. “My son took to the streets to ask for freedom, to express what every person has the right to express. It was his feeling as well as that of all the young people who went out that day.”

Even if his sentence were lowered “to one year,” Castro argues, she still wouldn’t agree: “I’m going to continue fighting and demanding his freedom, no matter what it costs me.”

Her attitude, however, is not common among relatives of other defendants. “Other mothers are also complaining, but I have seen several who have become afraid of the threats from State Security and have remained silent,” she says.

The woman, who suffers from leukemia, emphasizes that she is going to count on strength she does not have to get her son out of jail: “My son is not a criminal, he is a wrestling athlete with several medals. He is not a murderer , he did not kill anyone so that they ask for that sentence.”

On the day of the trial, “when it was his turn to speak,” Castro narrates, the young Rowland “clearly said that he did not regret anything he had done, but that all he wanted was to be free, continue his studies so he could help me in the midst of my illness and be by the side of his own son, who needs him.”

Yudinela Castro has the care of her grandson, a little over a year and a half old, who “hasn’t seen his father for seven months.” This Monday, the mother was able to see her son at the Juan Manuel Márquez Pediatric Hospital, where he went to receive treatment for two inguinal hernias. “I hope to be able to see him again on February 10, when I have my statutory visit at the Prison for Young Minors in the West of Guatao.”

“When we left the Court on Friday, there was a strong operation outside the court, a cordon that made it seem that I was a fugitive from justice, because they say that I am relating to counterrevolutionary and terrorist people,” she protests. “But I have every right to ask for my son’s freedom.”

On Tuesday “there was a lot of lack of control” in the testimonies of the police officers who testified because “each one said something different.” The mother, however, points out that all the officers “seemed to have agreed on one point, and it was that they had not been given pistols to attend the marches, that they were not armed.”

This outraged her, “because in many videos that are circulating in the streets you can see when the police shoot at the protesters and the violent way in which they confront the young people,” some images, she asserts, that were not broadcast during the trial.

As for the support he is receiving, it is uneven. In her neighborhood, she says, people reject her: “Before I had friends who came to my house and now they don’t even call me on the phone because they say my line is tapped.” However, in Santos Suárez, where Rowland participated in the protest on 11J and where her father lives — and where, by the way, one of the last graffiti against Miguel Díaz-Canel appeared — it is different: “The neighbors show a lot of concern.”

https://translatingcuba.com/an-11th-july-detainee-stood-up-in-a-havana-courtroom-and-shouted-for-freedom-for-all/

FoRB in Full Freedom of Religion or Belief in full – A blog by CSW, February 7, 2022

‘The Church was left without a place to worship’ – The story of Alain Toledano Valiente

Posted on 07/02/2022 by cswpress in Cuba, Latin America

‘We were evicted for the first time in 2007. The government came into our house [and] threw us out into the street – they took everything from us and threw it into the street. We were left homeless. At the same time, the government demolished our place of worship, Emanuel Church. They destroyed the floor and took it away. They left everything in ruins. They confiscated our land. This was the first violation of that scale. They demolished everything and took everything from us, our family possessions, music and audio equipment. Everything the church had was seized, all our technology was taken away. The church was left without land, its property and possessions, without a place to worship and we were left homeless in the street.’

Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente in an interview with CSW, September 2020

Less than ten years later, Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba was subjected to a second major attack. At 5am on Friday 5 February 2016, military, state security and police officers surrounded the property where the church was located and where the Toledano family was living. Pastor Toledano was abroad at the time, but his wife was taken into custody by government authorities and held incommunicado for the duration of the demolition from 5am to 7pm. Around 40 church members were also detained, and the church and home were demolished.

These incidents – the demolitions of November 2007 and February 2016 – are two dark threads in a disturbing tapestry of the Cuban authorities’ violations against Pastor Toledano, spanning over two decades. More than six years after that second major church demolition, attacks against Pastor Toledano, his church, and their right to a place of worship continue to escalate. 

Sixty years of oppression

By the start of the year 1959, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz had seized full political control of Cuba. The beginning of his leadership marked the start of a period of increasing state repression of religious and belief groups in Cuba. Under Castro’s political rule, it was made almost impossible for unregistered religious groups to receive legal recognition from the Ministry of Justice. Any new religious groups and their activities were rendered illegal under Cuban law.

Castro’s leadership formally ended in 2008, but violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) have not abated.

The Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), part of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), was created to regulate religious affairs on the island. In reality, the ORA is a major perpetrator of FoRB violations in Cuba.

The ORA requires the registration of all religious groups and places of worship in an arbitrary and non-transparent process which is routinely abused and used as a form of punishment. Religious leaders have reported to CSW that registration requests are frequently ignored or denied.

While all religious groups experience FoRB violations to varying degrees, religious groups that have been unable to obtain registration, that have arbitrarily been stripped of registration, or which have chosen not to register for reasons of conscience, experience some of the most egregious violations. Emanuel Church is one such group: their unregistered status means that their very existence is illegal under Cuban law, they are therefore unable to register their place of worship and they are vulnerable to interference, disruption and attack by state authorities.

In 2008, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Both treaties afford protections to FoRB. Fourteen years later, Cuba has yet to ratify either.

A church under attack

In 1999, Alain Toledano founded Emanuel Church with his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa, in Santiago de Cuba. The community, which began with just a few people in a living room, quickly grew into the hundreds.

Since CSW began monitoring Pastor Alain’s case in 2005, 47 accounts of violations against Alain have been logged, 45% of which involve harassment, and 34% threats.

Violations relating specifically to Emanuel Church’s place of worship – be it destruction of property, threats of confiscation, or allegations against the legality of land ownership – make up 36% of the 47 reported cases.

After the destruction of their church building in 2016, the congregation of Emanuel Church was forced for some time to divide and meet in various houses around the city. For the past few years, they have been constructing and meeting in a building on land owned by Rudisvel Rivera Robert, a member of the congregation.

Much like with their previous place of worship, attempts to prevent Emanuel Church from meeting on Mr Rivera’s land have been routine and persistent. 

On 6 September 2019, for example, Pastor Toledano was summoned to the Police Station, his third summons within a period of 15 days. At the station, he was threatened with imprisonment and verbally assaulted by officials. Seeing that Pastor Toledano remained firm and would not be forced to stop holding church services, the officials applied a fine of 500 Cuban pesos (approximately 15GBP/20USD) and issued a decree which threatened to demolish the site where the church was meeting.  

In the following years, the government has maintained and intensified their campaign of threats, fines, harassment and arbitrary detentions against Emanuel Church’s right to a place of worship. On 30 September 2021, two state security agents posing as inspectors arrived at Mr Rivera’s home to investigate alleged construction infractions. They conducted a search of the house and found nothing illegal, then identified themselves as state security officials. They demanded that Mr Rivera stop lending his land to Emanuel Church, which he refused. The officials returned with police officers and Mr Rivera was taken into custody. His three young children watched on as he was taken, crying. For several hours, he was threatened at the Abel Santamaria District Police Station.

An outdoor Emanuel Church meeting.

Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’

The ability to practice, worship and observe faith in community, and more specifically in a safe place of worship, is a freedom taken for granted in many countries across the world. But for Pastor Toledano and his congregation, as for so many religious groups in Cuba, it is the furthest thing from a given. Since its formation in 1999, Emanuel church’s freedom to meet and worship has been consistently and persistently attacked.

Ironically, this continuing campaign of harassment against church communities illustrates just how much the Cuban government fears the authority of churches like Emanuel Church and leaders like Pastor Toledano.  

We must therefore stand in solidarity with Pastor Toledano and the community of Emanuel Church. And we must declare that we will not accept a reality in which Emanuel Church, or any other peaceful religious or belief group in Cuba, is left without a place to worship.

By CSW’s Advocacy Intern

Below is a timeline detailing just a few of the violations which have been perpetrated against Pastor Toledano over the past 15 years. A more detailed version is available to download as a PDF here.