29 November 2016
For decades, the church in Cuba has experienced persecution and oppression. In the past that meant beatings, imprisonment and sometimes murder; today, it is generally in the form of harassment, strict surveillance and discrimination, including occasional imprisonment of leaders. Despite this, the Cuban Church has grown.
Now the architect of much of that oppression, Fidel Castro, has died aged 90. Ever since Fidel Castro took power, the country has been a place where political rights and civil liberties are to a large extent restricted. So what does his death mean for the church in Cuba?
"In the short run not much is expected to change," says an Open Doors specialist. "Cuba has been led by Raúl Castro, Fidel's brother, since 2008, who essentially continued his policies, and this is not likely to change in the foreseeable future."
However a lot depends on the foreign policy priorities of the new US President. There are also the 2018 presidential elections in Cuba, which are not expected to be free, but which could nevertheless lead to changes.
CHURCHES ORDERED TO HAND OVER DONATED GOODS
For the moment, the authorities remain suspicious of the church. For example, in the aftermath of hurricane Matthew, Open Doors has been providing humanitarian aid through partner churches on the ground. Recently, though, we received reports that the Cuban authorities are unhappy with these activities. They have ordered some churches to hand over all donated goods to the government, because they consider the state to be responsible for the material needs of the people. Pastors enaging in relief work are under constant monitoring by the police. It seems the Cuban government is again hindering churches in establishing, maintaining and conducting humanitarian work.
Cuba, a Communist state since the 1959 revolution, has seen very little change in its political system for decades. Fidel Castro handed over the presidency to his brother Raúl in 2008. Raúl has implemented certain cautious reforms, including some very limited economic liberalisation, and there has been a significant shift in foreign policy, with the US lifting most of its sanctions and both countries moving towards reopening embassies.
"The improved relations between the USA and Cuba raised hopes that Cuban churches would be granted more freedom," says Paul Groen, an analyst for Open Doors. "However, after one year, the situation for Cuban churches remains unchanged. Outspoken Christian leaders continue to receive intimidation, while the Cuban regime is still firmly in place, benefitting from increased legitimacy due to its release from international isolation and the economic benefits of increased tourism."
CHRISTIANS MONITORED, CHURCHES SPIED UPON
All Christians are monitored and all church services are infiltrated by spies. Christians are threatened and suffer discrimination in school and at work. Pastors and Christians are sometimes pressured to stop evangelising and to limit their activities to their own church premises. Permission to print Christian literature locally is hard to obtain. Bibles, Bible study materials and Sunday school materials are in extremely short supply.
Everything is restricted. Existing seminaries and church buildings may be used, but new churches and seminaries cannot be built.
So, please pray for the Cuban leaders who are committed to their communities so that the Lord may give them the confidence and intelligence to continue doing their work in Cuba.
Source: Open Doors