President Obama’s announcement that the United States would begin normalizing relations with Cuba’s communist regime has been criticized as a gift to an authoritarian government that hasn’t changed its ways.
Then, after the announcement in December, Obama doubled down, telling a Reuters interviewer he hopes to open an embassy in the repressive nation where persecution of Christians still is being documented.
The documentation comes from Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that works with persecuted Christians around the globe.
“Although recent reports seem to indicate many improvements for those living in Cuba, its government still severely restricts the freedom of its people, including Christian worship,” the group reported.
One recent display of repression, the organization said, was the detainment of the son of a pastor.
“Accused of writing a song against the government, Gabriel Leyva, 19, is now being held in a military prison with little recourse. He was arrested with only four months to go in his mandatory military service,” VOM reported.
VOM sources said the allegations against Veyva are baseless, contending his arrest “is directly related to his family’s evangelical Christian activities and effective ministry efforts.
“The Cuban government discourages any sort of dissent and views evangelical Christians with scorn, especially those from unregistered churches,” VOM reported. “Pastors and their families are especially vulnerable, and many have faced beatings, had their property seized, destroyed or both, and even faced imprisonment as a result.”
VOM said short-term arrests are skyrocketing.
“Between January and August 2014, one independent human rights organization received 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions, up from 2,900 reports during the same period in 2013. Many were taken into detention centers for ‘counterrevolutionary’ actions. There were at least seven reported incidents this past year in which evangelical Christians were arrested, some while they were in the middle of preaching.”
VOM reported that when Leyva’s father learned of his son’s detention, he went to the military prison to visit him, but guards refused to allow Gabriel to speak.
“While Gabriel’s imprisonment not unique, the military prison venue is. Most Christians who are arrested are placed in one of more than 200 prisons or labor camps on the island, which lump Christians with human rights’ defenders, political dissidents and other criminals without distinction.” VOM reported.
The ministry said that while some freedoms may arise, the government still is communist and authoritarian, and churches are monitored and controlled by strict policies despite the protections in the nation’s constitution for religious freedom.
“Active government surveillance also means that the children of pastors, like Gabriel Leyva, can be detained with little to no evidence. Those who have thriving Christian ministries in Cuba risk even their own freedom and the freedom of their children for the privilege of sharing Christ with others.”
In an interview with VOM, Leyva’s father said, “All we can do is pray.”
The Foundation for Moral Law, run by Kayla Moore, said Obama’s resumption of relations with Cuba was unwise at best.
“In light of the communist regime’s flagrant abuse of human rights and its suppression of Christianity it is outrageous that the Obama administration would take one more effort in a series of efforts that has appeased dictators and opponents of America, while at the same time slighting our allies such as Israel,” Moore said.
“My husband, Chief Justice Roy Moore, fought against communist expansion in Vietnam along with thousands of other dedicated Americans. The actions of President Obama are to render the sacrifices our soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere annulled.”
In the Reuters interview, Obama said, however, said he was pleased that Cuba already is reorganizing its economy to accept foreign investment.
The move, Obama said, will open up opportunities for entrepreneurs.
The report said U.S. and Cuba negotiating teams met days ago in Washington to talk about Obama’s plans to normalize relations.
The report said Josefina Vidal, head of the U.S. division of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said Cuba is willing to restore relations as soon as the Obama administration declares its intent to take Cuba off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
VOM reports that Cuba, 56 percent Christian, enjoyed the opening of a new Catholic seminary in 2010, but the government “still arrests, mistreats, marginalizes and openly opposes Christians.”
Christians are prevented from certain lines of work, detentions have surged and property confiscation continues.
“New rules in 2014 were imposed to prevent churches from having more than one bank account and to increase the government’s ability to freeze accounts of disfavored religious communities,” the assessment posted by VOM said. “Some children are required to renounce Christ and embrace communism in school, and Christian young people are often not allowed to graduate from high school or enter a university.”
The report said there has not been a Christian bookstore on the island in 54 years.
“Bibles are imported only through churches that are members of the Ecumenical Council, which directs its members to praise the socialist revolution and the Cuban state,” VOM said.
“Cuban law prohibits the unauthorized assembly of more than 12 people.”