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Cuba clamps down on churches

05 June 2015

PA

Impact: the Pope met the Cuban President Raul Castro in a private audience at the Vatican last month. The President said that he was so impressed that he considered a return to the Roman Catholic church

Impact: the Pope met the Cuban President Raul Castro in a private audience at the Vatican last month. The President said that he was so impres...

PROTESTANT Churches in Cuba are facing increasing pressure and harassment from the government, even as it begins to relax restrictions on the Roman Catholic Church.

Advocacy groups have reported several cases where the authorities have attempted to confiscate the land or buildings of independent churches. The Maranatha First Baptist Church, in the city of Holguin, has been told it must now pay rent to the government, even though it has owned the land it worships on since the 1940s.

The Pastor, the Revd Amado Ramirez, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that, after he had asked for permission to expand their building, he was told instead that the government would confiscate the building and demand the church rent it back.

"We believe that this move is not only unjust and arbitrary, but it violates the most basic principles of religious freedom, which is protected in our Republic's Constitution," he said.

Another network of Evangelical churches which the Cuban authorities have refused to formally register, the Apostolic Movement, has also been fighting persecution from the state.

The Revd Yiorvis Bravo Denis from the Apostolic Movement was given his home by his uncle, a former prisoner of conscience and pastor, when they sought asylum in the United States in 2013. But since then the government has sought to evict Mr Bravo Denis and his family, in what CSW described as an act of retribution.

Mr Bravo Denis has been told that he can only stay in the property if he submits all church activities to the government for approval in advance, formally concedes that the house belongs to the government, and pays it almost £200.

He has now filed a claim with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Other churches have been arbitrarily demolished without warning, and pastors have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

In 2010, the official who runs Cuba's Office for Religious Affairs was caught on video telling a group of Cuban church leaders that the government would continue trying to restrict the activities of the growing number of new Evangelical churches that are springing up across the island.

This repression comes at a time when the Cuban government has increasingly friendly relations with the RC Church. The President, Raúl Castro, told reporters last month that he was so impressed with Pope Francis that he might return to Roman Catholicism.

In 2014, for the first time since the revolution 50 years earlier, permission was granted for a new church to be built, using metal from the stage that Pope Benedict XVI stood on during a papal visit to Cuba in 2012.

On Wednesday, an email from Mr Ramirez said that the authorities had yet to make good on their threats of forcing his congregation out of their building. Meanwhile, he reported that the church continued to thrive. During last Sunday's service, 52 young people responded to a call to give their lives to Jesus.

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