Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Presbyterian News Service, Cuba, and religious freedom

The Presbyterian News Service has recently been concentrating on news from Cuba including the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba and the “Evangelico Seminario Teologia (Evangelical Theological Seminary, or SET).” The latest article, “Real Family Values,” is about Nelson Davila, a pastor and teacher who has devised a program that will help young people to be good citizens in all areas of their lives. Davila teaches a class at SET called, “The Church and Citizen Formation.” However, talking about this to PNS, Davila made a statement that raised a question in my mind. As the author of the PNS article put It, while quoting Davila:

We have many churches in Cuba that are just trying to be in the headlines,” Davila said, “but that is not the real gospel. The real gospel is humble and seeks to serve the least, to make them better human beings.

We should not be seeking recognition,” he continued. “Our only purpose is to serve the Lord.”

Well, yes, but I find it amazing that in a communist country any church is attempting to 'be in the headlines.' So perhaps it has something to do with those who are trying to gain religious freedom in Cuba.

Two news reports about ministry in Cuba, one from Christianity Today's Gleamings and one from the Presbyterian News Service, appeared on the same day. Together they are an image of theological contradiction. The CT one is about Lleonart Barroso, a Baptist pastor in Cuba, “Cuba Case Study: Bonhoeffer-Inspired Pastor Arrested after Blogs, Tweets and D.C. Trip.” Barroso is under house arrest because, as Gleamings writer, Melissa Kimiadi put it, he visited the “Congressional Caucus on Religious Freedom” and delivered a 30-point challenge to his Communist government.” A news article at, “Christian Solidarity outlines much of the challenge concerning Cuba's communist government and religious freedom:
The declaration and questions outline the most pressing concerns raised by the group, including the government's continued refusal to extend official recognition to newer religious groups, the approval or denial of legal rights to registered groups based on perceived political support and cooperation, and the sweeping authority over religious organisations and activities held by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The group pointed to mass arrests during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and new restrictions, including a decree that as of January 2014, churches and religious groups will no longer be able to hold individual bank accounts and existing accounts must be consolidated into one per denomination or organisation as proof that the government is not interested in true reforms that would protect freedom of religion or belief.
Barroso is a Christian activist advocating for religious freedom in Cuba. According to the author he is influenced by Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Churches of Nazi Germany.

The other news story on PNS, “A Long Strange Trip: God's Call Leads Theological Student From Dominican Republic to South Bronx to Cuba,” is about Manolo De Los Santos and his work and studies in Cuba. The piece is from the Presbyterian Mission Agency. At the end of the piece the author who is not named quotes Santos writing, “ Life in Cuba is very difficult, De Los Santos says — some of it brought on by the Cubans themselves but much of it imposed on them by the 60-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba.”

The author quotes Santos' description of the state's provision for the people which seems to contradict the difficult life he says they live:
What impacts me every day is the witness of all the people, not just the Christians,” he said. “They don’t give a second thought to health care, education and personal security, which is fully provided in Cuba. I think about the South Bronx, where that is not the case at all, and I’m astounded and moved.
The article ends with Santos' hope for the future, “The witness of the Cuban people — not just the Christians — De Los Santos says,“is a witness that shows the world what could be. As Christians, we see Jesus as the new paradigm for humanity. Without replacing Jesus, Cuba is struggling for the same.”

Those are the two stories as one reads the articles, but there is more in other news outlets. Santos made his journey to Cuba via a group of activist. He evidently went with a group who were taking aid to Cuba via Mexico and also a message. On ACN (Cuban News Agency) in an article, dated July 16, 2013, “Peace Caravan Reaches Mexico via in Route to Cuba” the author names Santos as a coordination team member and writes:
The Caravan also brings messages from the American people against the US blockade imposed by Washington, as well as voices for the freedom of the Cuban Five, as the anti-terrorist fighters held in US jails are internationally known, said de los Santos.
 The article also tells of the actions of this caravan alongside other organizations. The author writes:
Manolo de los Santos announced a protest action in front of the US embassy in Mexico, which will send a message about the unity of the people in this continent against Washington's hostile policy against Cuba and humanity.

We are many, united in a single voice for Cuba and there we will join our friends from the Francisco Villa People's Front, the Mexico-Cuba Solidarity Movement, the Ecclesial Observatory and other social organizations, the community and ecumenical groups,” said de los Santos.
Remembering that the ACN is an official paper of Cuba one still wonders why “The Francisco Villa People's Front” can only be found, aside from Cuba Solidarity groups, listed as a terrorist group and then there is little information only references to an assassination in Mexico.

The Mexico-Cuba Solidarity Movement is a part of Cuba's Solidarity groups in many countries. They at the very least are socialist. The Ecclesial Observatory is a Catholic group which denies most social teaching of the Catholic Church. And certainly all of these groups are aligned with the Cuban government which is failing to give complete religious freedom to its people. Whether one agrees with the embargo the United States government has in place against Cuba it seems to me we should be allowed to hear, from our own denominational news outlet, the whole news.

What about religious freedom in Cuba? Does being a good citizen mean being passive in the face of tyranny and loss of freedom?

A beautiful movie, The Lost City, about Havana, Cuba, before the communist revolution and afterwards, shows both the totalitarianism before communism and the irrational totalitarianism afterwards. The main star who is Cuban, Andy Garcia, in an interview expresses how Czechoslovakia had their revolution and finally arrived at democracy, but Cuba is still waiting.


Anonymous said...

Here's a bit more information that you might find interesting, Viola. The Cuba News item you linked to confirmed something I suspected:

"The 24th US-Cuba Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan to Cuba arrived in Mexico on its way to the Caribbean nation with a humanitarian cargo, particularly tools and items to contribute to reconstruction efforts underway in eastern Cuba, a territory hard hit by hurricane Sandy in October 2012."

The reference to "Pastors for Peace" is the key. Pastors for Peace is an affiliate and co-founding organization of International ANSWER, the group fronted by Ramsey Clark that is itself a front group for the neo-Stalinist Workers World Party. De Los Santos being part of their "Cuba Caravan" would be an embarrassment to any religious institution that was capable of distinguishing between advocacy and totalitarian propaganda, something that PCUSA is no longer able to do.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

Thanks for the information David,
I am aware of ANSWER, I knew it was at least socialist, but did not know it was a front for Workers World Party. There have been several of those Cuban news stories that seem to have question marks in them.