By Inés Fors Fernández
Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Jamaica
Multiple voices in the world, including that of the National Council of Churches of the United States, have denounced the repeated inclusion of Cuba in the controversial ‘Special List’ of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
It is a unilateral, deliberate and dishonest act that attempts to convince international public opinion of an alleged lack of freedom in Cuba.
In order to dismantle the fallacies on which the discrediting campaign against our country is based, and to keep public opinion informed about Cuba’s related accomplishments, I would like to list some arguments that demonstrate the respect and guarantees enjoyed by Cuban citizens in the exercise of religious freedom.
The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, endorsed on February 24, 2019 with the favourable vote of 89.85 per cent of those who exercised that right, sets the principles that govern relations with religions and believers in articles 15 (Religious freedom; equal rights and duties for religious institutions and fraternal associations, and equal consideration for different beliefs and religions); 22 (Acknowledging institutions and associations as a form of property); 42 (Equal rights, freedoms and opportunities, without discrimination based on religious beliefs); 56 (Acknowledging the rights of assembly, demonstration and association for lawful and peaceful purposes) and 57 (Acknowledging the right to profess religious beliefs or not, to change them and to practice one’s own religious preference.)
RELIGIOUS BELIEF NO IMPEDIMENT TO PUBLIC SECTOR JOBS
Until June 2020, the Cuban Ministry of Justice recognised 1,850 religious organisations and institutions and fraternal associations, with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people.
The official body responsible for the keeping and good progress of relations between religious and fraternal institutions and the State is the National Directorate of Associations of the Ministry of Justice, which is run under Law 54/1985. There is also the Office for Religious Affairs, a department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, which maintains a fluid, stable and coherent dialogue with religious organisations and fraternal associations.
The condition of believer and/or representative of a religious organisation is not an impediment to take on responsibilities at state-owned entities or jobs at state institutions, the Public Administration and others related to the provision of services. Four religious leaders occupy seats in the National Assembly of People’s Power and an unspecified number of believers who are not religious leaders are members of that and other government structures.
All religious institutions and organisations and fraternal associations develop – with total independence and autonomy in relation to the State- their social activities, the training of their personnel, the appointment of their leaders and their activities within and outside the country. They maintain relationships with institutions and personalities abroad, receive delegations and guests and organise events, which has been affected by the measures approved by the current US administration.
Several Cuban religious institutions are part of similar international structures and some of their members carry out responsibilities in them, such as the World and Latin American Councils of Churches, Joint Action Group of Churches, the World Student Christian Federation, the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America, the Baptist Peace Fellowship (a regional organisation), the Baptist World Alliance and the Latin American Episcopal Council, among others.
Religious institutions own their movable and immovable property. They also carry out activities of a social nature with different profiles, being able to interact with believers and non-believers. For example:
- Administrating homes for the elderly;
- Implementing joint projects with health and education entities for the benefit of people with disabilities,
- Producing food on lands granted under the current legislation on agriculture,
- Installing water purifiers throughout the country.
- Emergency assistance to victims of natural phenomena.
In the face of COVID-19, they carry out activities of national and local scope, such as supporting in assisting the elderly, making face masks, promoting health and producing food.
Keeping themselves respectful of legality, they carry out different activities of a religious and cultural nature, many of them outside their congregation premises, such as masses, cults, processions, pilgrimages, ceremonies, rituals, concerts, drumbeats, workshops, seminars, congresses and others. For example, during Holy Week in 2019, 124 processions were held and Cuban TV broadcasted the Via Crucis performed by Pope Francisco and the Resurrection Cult organised by the Council of Churches of Cuba. In 2020, marked by COVID-19, radio and television religious broadcasts have remained and increased.
Since 1988 the prison population in Cuba has received spiritual care individually and since 2008, collectively. Masses and services are celebrated in MININT prisons throughout the country.
In Cuba there are numerous publications, bearing different denominations, from religious organisations and fraternal associations. More than 30 of them are registered in the Registry of Publications from the Cuban Book Institute.
NO LIMIT TO BIBLE ENTRY
Cuban authorities do not limit the entry of Bibles into the country. Between 2018 and 2019, a total of 848,070 Bibles and New Testaments were sent to the country and distributed by the Biblical Commission of Cuba, which amount to more than five million copies in recent years. Due to the restrictions imposed by the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the United States, most of the shipments do not come directly from the United States, but from faraway places. In addition, transactions and corresponding payments are difficult if donors’ accounts are held in US banks.
Cuba continues to receive visits from world leaders and leaders of organisations from different religions. In 2019 and early 2020, the President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, met with important international personalities such as Reverends James Winkler, Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States, and Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, Secretary General of the ACT Alliance, the prominent scholar and theologian Frei Betto, and Cardinals Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in the Holy See, and Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. Other authorities in the country had meetings with dignitaries from the most diverse religious denominations.
In 2019, some 9,741 people visited the country to fraternize with 72 Cuban religious organisations and fraternal associations. Despite the restrictions the Government imposes on citizens, 8,397 people from the United States travelled to our country (86.2 per cent of the total.)
Cuban religious and fraternal organisations have also been victims of the unjust and immoral economic, commercial and financial blockade of the United States against Cuba, because that policy has caused our people –of which the members of these organisations are also part– considerable deprivation and human damage that seriously affect our economy and hinder development.