Baha'i News -- Cuba Intolerant Of Religious Freedom, Administration Says International

Cuba Intolerant Of Religious Freedom, Administration Says

By Jim Burns Senior Staff Writer
October 08, 2002

( - Cuban dictator Fidel Castro promised to allow Cubans more religious freedom after Pope John Paul's visit in 1998, but it hasn't happened.

A State Department report released Monday says Cuba's government remains intolerant of religious freedom by restricting religious activity.

The report covered respect for religious worship in some 190 countries, and it found "no change" in Cuba's treatment of religious freedom in the past year.

"In general, unregistered religious groups [in Cuba] continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, harassment and repression," the State Department said.

The report accused the Castro government of sending security agents to spy on those who worship in churches; blocking construction of new churches; and limiting the number of foreign priests allowed into the country.

In addition, the report said, Cuba refuses to recognize most denominations, although it now tolerates the Bahai faith. Some private houses of worship have been shut down in the past year.

The Castro government didn't jail any Cubans for their religious beliefs, even though government agents have kept a careful eye on religious activities.

"The Ministry of Interior continued to engage in efforts to control and monitor religious activities, and to use surveillance, infiltration and harassment against religious groups and religious professionals and lay persons," the report said.

When Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, he called on Castro to accept greater religious activity and permit religious schooling. Castro loosened some restrictions, and he even declared Christmas an official holiday, thus allowing Cubans to celebrate it openly.

"Approximately 40-45 percent of the population generally were believed to identify themselves with the Roman Catholic Church, according to information from the U.S.-based Puebla Institute," the report said.

In 1984, the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Cuba, and Castro accompanied him to a Methodist church service.

Castro was baptized as a Catholic and educated in Jesuit schools, including the prestigious "Colegio Belen" religious academy in Havana. During his days as a rebel commander, he wore a cross on his military uniform.

The report said the Roman Catholic Church throughout Cuba is still seen as a potential haven for opponents of the Castro regime.

"State security officials visited some priests and pastors prior to significant religious events, ostensibly to warn them that dissidents are trying to use the church. However, some critics claimed that these visits were done in an effort to foster mistrust between the churches and human rights or pro-democracy activists," the report said.

The Castro government issued no official reaction to the report.

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