CLERGY have been arrested and detained after rare public protests in Cuba against the government.
The protests on Sunday, sparked by an economic crisis and the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic, swept quickly across the island, but were met with a tough response from the police. Hundreds of demonstrators have been detained or gone missing since the protests.
A Roman Catholic priest, Fr Castor José Álvarez Devesa, was one of those arrested and reportedly beaten before being released two days later, after a silent vigil by Catholics outside the prison where he was held.
Two other pastors are still in detention, according to the president of the William Carey Biblical Seminary, the Revd Jatniel Peréz. He said that pastors Yéremi Blanco Ramírez and Yarian Sierra were being held in a women’s prison, and were likely to be detained for at least a week. He said that they had been detained for the “simple act of watching a peaceful demonstration”.
In a post on Facebook, Mr Peréz said: “I only ask one question: why have two pastors been imprisoned as if they were criminals for the simple act of watching a peaceful demonstration? I hold the government of Cuba and its president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, responsible for the health of pastor Yéremi Blanco, who suffers from bronchial asthma, and for any chance of catching the Covid in that unhygienic place. . .
“I urgently demand the release of Yéremi Blanco and Yarian Sierra. We ask all international organisations to please support us in calling for the urgent release of these two pastors. We fear for their lives.”
The Revd Yusniel Pérez Montejo, a member of the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba, was also detained, and his whereabouts are unknown.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has written to the Church in Cuba pledging his solidarity after the unrest.
In an open letter to the Bishop of Cuba, the Rt Revd Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, he said: “I stand in solidarity with you during this time of sickness, food insecurity, economic suffering, and civil unrest. I am praying for you, and I stand for the human rights of all peaceful protesters.”
He also called for support for Cuba from the international community and humanitarian organisations.
Anna Lee Stangl, from the charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), has called for the immediate release of clergy and others detained. “We welcome news of the release of Father Castor, though we note that he never should have been detained, as none of these men have committed any crime.
“We call on the Cuban authorities to hold those responsible for the assault on Father Castor to account, and to release all others who were detained in relation to the exercise of their fundamental rights immediately and without conditions. CSW condemns the Cuban government’s explicit call to violence in the streets and urges President Díaz Canel and other leaders of the Cuba Communist Party to take seriously and respond humanely and responsibly to the calls of the demonstrators.”
Anti-government protests are rarely seen in Cuba, as unauthorised public gatherings are illegal.
President Díaz-Canel has called the demonstrators “counter-revolutionaries”. He has sought to blame the United States, and its economic sanctions, for the protests and Cuba’s wider problems.