One year later: How Cuban evangelicals powered the ‘11J’ revolution (II)
Many registered Cuban Protestant institutions did not remain silent, at the expense of various reprisals, such as losing their legal status.
27 JULY 2022 · 09:15 CET
This is the second part of the article by Yo Suárez. You can read the first part here.
Crackdown on religious speech
Weeks after the demonstrations, in August, there was talk of nothing else in the independent media and among Cubans, no matter their political persuasion.
That was when the National Revolutionary Police summoned Yuri Pérez Osorio to threaten him with fines and jail.
The crime? He had hung on the front window of his house a sign with a verse from the book of Isaiah in the Bible.
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey, and robbing the fatherless!” it read, with a call for repentance in the second part.
Within the context of 11J, those words had a clear meaning.
Osorio, however, was summoned to the police station without a clear reason, as reported by his friend Yunier Enríquez on Facebook.
No explicit reference to the verse was made. In his post he explained that those who participated in the nationwide protests were being summoned by the police, but on 11J Osorio was in a hospital after his mother contracted COVID-19.
“I still don’t know what is happening or how they are treating him, nor do I know if they will let him return home, but if he does not retract, I very much doubt that they will let him go free,” said Enríquez amid the uncertainty. “Only God can work such a miracle in the midst of this lamentable reality in Cuba.”
In a publication made later, Enríquez shared an update about Osorio: Police allowed him to return home, but he was told he had to take down the sign, or he would be detained.
“Yuri was able to preach to all the officers there and only responded with the word of God,” Enríquez said. “This further agitated the officers, who, powerless, could do nothing but threaten him. He remains firm in his conviction to keep the sign. We continue to pray.”
Christian support for Cuba
While the tension inside Cuba was still palpable, on July 13, 2021, pastors, priests, leaders, lay people and members of the Cuban church in the diaspora launched an open letter stating, “We do not forget our people in Cuba. We feel the responsibility to raise our voices.”
The group declared “support for the people, a people suffering from hunger, needs, spiritual and material shortages” and called on the international community “not turn its face away from the Cuban reality, to not continue in its complicit silence, and to join in an international intervention which in the Cuban situation can no longer be delayed.”
From abroad, Christian nondenominational organizations, such as Outreach Aid for the Americas, sent food and supplies to the families of 11J prisoners.
Many registered Cuban Protestant institutions did not remain silent, at the expense of various reprisals, such as losing, as at the beginning of the revolution, their legal status.
The largest denominations, for example, issued clear public statements in favor of individual liberties repressed by the socialist system. At the same time, they did not forget their role as peacemakers and called for an end to violence.
On July 13, Moisés de Prada, superintendent of the Assemblies of God, the largest Protestant denomination on the island, released a video on social media calling for the “cessation of repression” and hostilities.
“We call the authorities and the people to sanity,” he wrote. “Violence begets violence and the results are dire. Afterwards we will not be able to look each other in the face.”
That same day, the Evangelical League of Cuba issued a statement defending the right to peaceful demonstration. It called on Cuban authorities to “listen to the voice of the people and offer solutions based on justice and peace.”
“We call upon the members of our institution to act according to biblical principles. Love God above all things. Love others as ourselves. Forgive regardless of the offense. To love our enemies. To serve without expecting anything in return. To act justly. To be no respecter of persons. To be peacemakers. To be merciful. To pray for those who persecute us and do evil.”
This part, almost at the end of the document, shows how the LEC — the abbreviation for Evangelical League of Cuba in Spanish — recognizes that among the anti-system demonstrators there must have been members of the church, as indeed there were.
Some of them, like so many other Cubans, left Cuba for fear of being identified in the many videos of the demonstrations that circulated online and end up being tried under sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
On July 17, the board of directors of the Methodist Church in Cuba issued a statement stating that it had been called to stand by the people and rejecting “the repressive manner used against the demonstrating population.”
“Confrontation and violence only generate death, pain, mourning, and insecurity,” declared the Protestant denomination, one of the three largest on the island. “To refuse to listen to the voice of those who peacefully protest, is to close the only window for understanding and living in peace.”
Leaders of different denominations and from various positions of authority took to social media to express themselves in favor of peaceful protest and the rights of Cubans on the island, where freedom of assembly and expression are prohibited even more strictly in the context of a public health and economic crisis.
“A genuine Christian faith will never allow a believer to coerce, impede, intimidate, and, much less, repress another person for expressing his or her beliefs,” said Pastor Daniel González García in an address on Facebook.
The Baptist leader, whose ministry is based in Havana, opposed the regime’s request to several workers to form brigades to repress those who demonstrate.
Through a personal anecdote, García decried that recruiting people to beat or impede the exercise of individual liberties by other Cubans is not a new practice of the dictatorship — since in the 1990s, when he was studying electrical engineering at City University Jose Antonio Echeverria in Havana, he was pressured, in vain, to engage in similar acts.
In another video, also shared on social media, the historian of the Western Baptist Convention, Carlos Sebastián Hernández Armas, recalled that on July 11, in the midst of “the current economic and health crisis, the repression against political dissidents and the impact of social media on young people, has been the straw that broke the camel’s back of years and years of hardship for the Cuban people.”
“I give my full support to the Cubans who have risen up to legitimately ask to be granted the rights we have been deprived of for more than six decades: among them, social freedom, freedom of conscience, material prosperity, the right to choose the kind of government we want and the rulers we want.”
Armas also stressed his support for the right to peaceful demonstration with an “understanding that the rulers are public servants who owe it to the people and not the people to them.”
He, having been defamed several times by state media and part of the list of hundreds of citizens whom the government has banned from leaving the island in recent years, “totally” rejected the position of President Miguel Díaz-Canel when on July 11, 2021, he ordered communists and revolutionaries to confront peaceful demonstrators in the streets.
Regarding his pastoral and personal position on whether Christians and the church should participate in the nation’s political and social life, Armas pointed out that Baptists maintain the separation of church and state as one of the “most influential principles in the world,” while accepting that “in none of its forms does this principle prevent the church from participating and expressing its opinion in defense of human and social rights, as well as on the social and political freedoms of a nation.”
“The church can and should raise its voice and do what it can to bless the nation in which it exists and where its faithful live,” Armas said.
With respect to the biblical teaching on obedience to civil authorities, he said this also has its limits, pointing to an excerpt from the “Declaration of Faith and Baptist Principles of the Western Baptist Convention,” which says the state that “pretends to usurp divine authority cannot count on the support and obedience of the true believer in that particular case.”
“I believe this is our current situation,” Armas explained. “The Cuban government has tried to remove God from his throne and play the role of God to exercise tyrannical control, over everything, but without the love and justice of God.”
Toward the end of his speech, Armas appealed to his brothers and sisters in the faith: “I believe and teach that every believer can participate in the political and social life of his country and cannot abide by the authority of a government that goes outside of its sphere assigned by God,” understanding as such its intention to “dominate also over the spheres in which God did not give it authority: the conscience of each individual, the family, work, the church and the social sphere. … We have the right and the divine obligation to dissent.”
Yoé Suárez, journalist in Cuba. This is the first of three parts of this in-depth report that first appeared in English at Religion Unplugged. Re-published with permission.