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One year later: How Cuban evangelicals powered the ‘11J’ revolution (III)

In the days following July 11 evangelical leaders raised their voices as well as others who on rare occasions have directly and publicly confronted the Castro regime..

FEATURES AUTOR 247/Yoe_Suarez 03 DE AGOSTO DE 2022 09:30 h
Pro-Cuban government protesters in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on July 11, 2021.

This is the third part of the article by Yo Suárez. You can read the first part here and th second here.

‘The divine obligation and right to dissent’

The evangelical producer Sandy Cancino spoke about the anti-government manifestations on the island and about the misrepresentation in the official media — the only legal news sources in Cuba — which show the protests as violent and their participants as “scourges.”

“I was left astonished watching and hearing Cuban diplomats in Spain saying that in Cuba the police and the army don’t suppress the people,” Cancino said.

“How do they dare ignore what the same news channel has confirmed (the death of a Cuban as a consequence of the regime’s repression)?

If there are mercenaries in Cuba, it is those in the mass media. They justify all that is wrong and still get thousands of pesos, awards and promotions. Who is going to tell the president that he incited confrontation?”

The religious leader also commented on social media, “Is not the ‘revolution’ a bastion of truth? What is truth? Currently the political system has lost its mask of justice. They are capable of publishing in the newspaper things such as, ‘In Cuba no one is punished for their way of thinking.’ That is a lie, they are liars, and they just try to convince the so called ‘revolutionaries’”.

Cancino asked why there shouldn’t be a dialogue between communists and those who think differently, even those considered dissidents, lamenting that “prisoners of conscience will be multiplied because there is a country called Cuba that has always taken the wrong course when it comes to recognizing diversity of thought.”

Cancino said that since he won the award for best project in development from the International Radio and TV Festival in 2017, “the ICRT owes him a prize,” referring to the censorship that has been carried out so that the project, a children’s television program with Christian values, could continue.

He added, “(I have been) defamed in order to pit Cuba’s pastors against me and to limit the national ministry that I lead. They understand that the end justifies the means, and with that premise they feed the minds of the ‘revolutionaries.’

It must be so hard for the ‘confused revolutionaries!’ A new term for those who have awakened to the reality of the system, those whom, without a doubt, they will try to convince again. …

“What happened in Cuba on both sides, first, was motivated by the governmental leadership; then, by the hate that has grown as a result of the lack of opportunities and the physical and psychological suppression to which we Cubans are subjected. Yes, even the revolutionary and the communist is still pressured psychologically. Is there a revolutionary who has not felt pressured by the government? How many have gone out to abuse others without really desiring to do it?”

In the days following July 11 and 12, evangelical leaders who usually confront state authorities raised their voices as well as others who on rare occasions have directly and publicly confronted the Castro regime.

Cancino and Armas were among them , but many other leaders spoke.

The pastor of the LEC, Abdiel Nieto, lamented seeing the streets in Havana “totally militarized” with the presence of “police, military men, special troops, state security agents dressed as civilians and others who were called to stop any peaceful manifestation.”

The youngest son of the pastor, Alejandro Nieto Selles, commented on the fact that the government press said “all is peaceful,” asking, “What are you so afraid of that you bring so much repressive power into the streets?”

“Why do they keep calling criminals anyone who has a different political approach or way of thinking? Why do they continue denigrating, offending and slandering everyone who has expressed themselves with respect and with the hope to be listened? … Why do they keep sowing hate and continue dividing the people? When is this going to stop? What else needs to happen? How many wounded people and casualties will be enough for you?”

In July 2021 Nieto’s older brother, Noel Nieto, who is co-pastor at the LEC, parked the church car outside of Valle Grande Prison.

A member of the congregation had asked him for a ride there, in the suburbs of the capital, to pick up one of his best friends, who was going to be released since his detention on July 11.

They took the long Avenue 51, leaving behind the rotunda and the hills of the Bride of Noon, and arrived on the plains where the penitentiary is located. They waited a moment before picking up the friend.

They saw men coming out of the prison, all going toward the highway. They were going with the hope that something would drive them to their houses, which was not really a possibility.

The government had discontinued public transportation during the worst months in the pandemic. The roads were deserted.

When Noel Nieto and the other believer identified who they were looking for, it was late already. The other men were still waiting. Nieto then invited those who were still there to the car, and on the way back he dropped them off where they asked.

During that time and from that remote corner in Havana, he heard their stories of their time in the jail, preached to them and served the ones in need.

In the capital, the LEC leader Felipe Miari wrote on social media, “The Cuban has the right to be listened to, not beaten or suppressed.”

Almost at the other extreme of the island, in Puerto Padre city, Pastor Carlos López Valdés, of the same denomination, wrote, “To protest is a right, to repress is a crime.”

Help also came from the exile Christian community. The families of those arrested on July 11, Milo Espinosa and Andy Garcia Lorenzo, welcomed the religious assistance of Baptist Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart and the Adventist Pastor Alexander Pérez Rodríguez, on the internet.

On Nov. 17, 2021, at least two meetings were held where the families prayed, read the Bible and received spiritual counseling.

To these sessions were added efforts by pastors “in the field,” such as Carlos Macias and Enrique de Jesús Fundora. The first, a leader of the Jovellanos Methodist Church, has maintained contact and regular visits to families of well-known opponents, participants of the July 11 protest in Matanzas province, the Lady in White Sissi Abascal, and Felix Navarro, one of the 75 who were unjustly sentenced in a crackdown on dissidents in 2003.

Macias made contact with the families who, although not believers, received periodic visits from him, and he also accompanied others whose children, grandchildren or nephews and nieces remained imprisoned for political reasons.

In some cases, State Security agents coerced these persons into refusing any more assistance from the pastor.

Fundora, one of the religious leaders of the Apostolic Movement in the Mayabeque province, experienced intimidation in a direct way because of his pastoral work with relatives of the 11J prisoners.

On Nov. 9, he received an official summons forcing him to appear for questioning the following day.

In the office of Investigation of Crimes Against State Security, in San Jose de las Lajas, he received fines and a warning note for “accompanying the families whose children were arrested,” said Fundora in a live Facebook interview, referring to assistance to families of those arrested and awaiting sentencing for their participation in the July 11 protests.

The religious leader noticed Captain Fernando, who “interviewed” him, visibly annoyed by his messages calling for nonviolence in the Civic March for Change, then scheduled to take place Nov. 15, 2021, in several cities on the island.

“That is why the State Security in Cuba focuses on intimidating the pastors, men of God, leaders, because in Cuba they are not after crime itself — in Cuba they are after ideals,” he said. “For this moment God has brought us here, for the freedom of our people.

“Through this medium I make an appeal for love among Cubans. For unity, for prayer, for claiming (rights and freedom), and for the Church of Christ to not stop, no matter how much intimidation comes to us, the pastors, the public faces of the church.”

“We will not stop carrying out our social work,” he added. “As a church and as pastors we don’t take sides with political parties, but we do take our position on the side of justice.”

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.




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