Cuba is one of the few remaining communist regimes in the world. After a referendum process, the last approved Constitution (2019) tightened the control exerted by the Communist Party of Cuba, the leading political force of society and the State.
The Office of Religious Affairs, the ORA, for the Central Committee of the Communist Party is the entity responsible for applying the government’s guidelines to religious matters. It is responsible for the Church-State relationship as it represents the State among the different religious organizations in the country.
The Cuban constitutional block includes the Constitution and international treaties; however, the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba takes precedence over these international treaties. In this context, the Constitution includes only basic guarantees to the right of religious freedom. Among these are:
Figure 1: Religious Freedom – Main legal framework
|Freedom of religion||Religious Education||
Military Service/Spiritual attention Armed Forces
General Description of the State of Religious Freedom
While religious freedom is recognized in the country, the new Constitution states that conscientious objection cannot be invoked for the purpose of evading compliance with the law. This clause ends up being problematic because the law must follow the superior force of the communist party, which implies adhering strictly to the regime’s postulates.
The Office of Religious Affairs is one of the main perpetrators of religious repression in Cuba as it is responsible for imposing practices that are aligned to the regime, and limits all those that question it. Not to mention that it controls the Cuban Councils of Churches, the CIC, an ecumenical fellowship of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions. After decades of disagreements with the CIC, seven Protestant denominations have now formed the “Alliance of Cuban Evangelical Churches,” which aspires to be a united front against government intimidation of Christians.
Furthermore, as in many countries in the region, there has been an increasing trend related to the space and support granted to the interests of sexual minorities in the public sphere. It is pertinent to highlight the broad support of Mariela Castro to the LGBT community through the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex). She has promoted public policies in favor of these groups, and participated in rallies against homophobia and transphobia hand in hand with the self-defined organization “Church of the Metropolitan Community (ICM)”, which follows LGBT guidelines. Her active involvement has legitimized the dissident message of this organization with respect to the Christian message being spread by the rest of the churches in the country on issues related to marriage and family. This case has influenced the root of the idea that religious denominations that do not accept LGBT postulates are discriminatory and intolerant and should therefore not be listened to.
In general, although the persecution of Christians in the past included beatings, imprisonment, and other types of violent attacks, oppression is now generally more subtle. It continues in the form of harassment, strict surveillance, and discrimination.
A. Hostility to religious expressions by state and non-state actors
The pressure to censor religious denominations in the country, especially the Christian denomination, became more evident in the last constitutional referendum process. Since the text of the new Constitution contained ambiguous terms in relation to the regulation of marriage and family, opening up the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage, various Christian denominations insisted upon and promoted non-acceptance. As a result, in addition to censorship by the regime, those who were involved were exposed to criticism and questioning and portrayed as intolerant and discriminatory by both sexual minorities and government authorities sympathetic to these groups.
B. Religious restrictions from antireligious political ideology (communism)
The ruling Party is communist, Marxist, and Leninist, and seeks to build socialism and continue moving towards a communist society. Since communism proposes a society in which there are no individual freedoms, one of the first rights to be limited is that of religious freedom. In this context, religion is treated as an ideology that contradicts the communist postulates and must be eradicated. Instead, the cult of Fidel Castro, Che, or the Revolution is encouraged. That is why public education does not include religious education, but civic education that is actually communist indoctrination.
In this context, anyone who does not adhere to the postulates of the communist party, or who embraces and/or invites others to embrace a faith that is critical of the party or questions its guidelines, becomes a victim of repression and harassment by the regime and its supporters. As a result, religious leaders and groups known for their opposition to communist ideology have faced arbitrary fines, detentions, arrests, imprisonment, and obstacles to registration or authorizations to carry out religious activities. Even parents have been stripped of their right to educate their children under their own convictions.
C. Religious restrictions from totalitarian government control
The hostility of the Cuban Government towards the church is due to the fact that Cuban churches are among the few non-governmental groups with national coverage. In that sense, the church is seen as a danger since it is a force with the ability to summon citizens and inspire/organize forms of resistance that could endanger the stability of the Communist Party. In the last referendum process, those who promoted “NO” to the continuation of the regime became victims of harassment.
In Cuba, any conduct that could endanger or question the authority of the party is repressed. Hence, churches, religious leaders, and/or religious groups who advocate for religious freedom, the defense of human rights, or the return to democracy, or those that condemn the totalitarian government measures face retaliations, as do their families. They are subjected to various human rights violations, such as impediments to leaving the country, censorship, arbitrary arrests, and detentions on charges such as public disorder or disobedience to authority. In some cases, the harassment is such that they must even flee the country. Similarly, activists and religious leaders are considered rebels for speaking out against the Constitution. Organizations such as the Alliance of Cuban Evangelical Churches are monitored by the Office of Religious Affairs for not adhering to government guidelines. Security agents monitor house churches, in particular, intervening in religious activities that take place there and intimidating attendees and coordinators, especially if they are known opponents of the regime.
 The CIC is not representative of Cuban Protestantism because its members only include a small subset of registered denominations and none of the unregistered denominations that are quickly growing. Petri, D.P & Flores, T.I (2019) Country Overviews and Case Studies of Mexico, Colombia, and Cuba. Briefing prepared for the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the UK Foreign Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians. Retrieved from https://platformforsocialtransformation.org/download/religiousfreedom/Country-overviews-and-case-studies-for-FCO-review.pdf
 Pastor J.A. & Petri D.P. (2018). Cuba: New names, but the same approach: Changes after elections. Retrieved from https://platformforsocialtransformation.org/download/religiousfreedom/Pastor-Petri-Cuba-New-names-but-the-same-approach.pdf
Violent Incidents Database
The Violent Incident Database (VID) is a service by the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America, designed to collect, record, and analyze violent incidents related to violations of religious freedom.
In many cases, the limitations on religious freedom previously explained have led to violent incidents in the country, both against religious leaders or religious groups and even against places of worship, among others.
Here some examples of the cases reported on the platform:
- Christian activist Juan Bautista detained and fined: Juan Bautista Cárdenas, a 60-year-old religious activist, was detained for seven days and released with a fine of 588 pesos. The accusation arose when he was preaching in a public space. The police threatened to “kick him” to stop him from preaching “that silly thing”. The preacher replied with a Bible verse and the police officers started to beat him. After that, he was briefly detained. Eventually, he was released but fined 588 pesos.
- Cuban Pastor and his wife in jail for homeschooling their children: A couple of evangelical pastors were sentenced to prison for homeschooling their children. Ramón Rigal was sentenced to two years, and his wife, Ayda Expósito, was imprisoned for a year and a half for “acting against the normal development of a minor.” She has now been released and the pastor has been sent to a labor camp with internment.
- Pastor Robert Veliz arbitrarily detained: Pastor Robert Veliz Torres, minister of the Assemblies of God, one of the most prominent voices in the “NO” campaign, was arbitrarily detained for two hours by an agent from the Technical Department of Investigations (DTI), who accused him of directing members of his congregation to vote ‘no’ in the referendum for the new constitution.
Figure 2: Violent incidents reported in Cuba (2017-2019)
|(Attempts) to destroy, vandalize or desecrate places of worship or religious buildings||0||0||2|
|Closed places of worship or religious buildings||0||0||1|
|Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse)||67||1||1|
|Attacked houses/property of faith adherents||1||1||0|
|Attacked shops, businesses or institutions of faith adherents||0||0||0|
|Forced to leave Home||0||0||0|
|Forced to leave Country||0||0||0|
Information and/or data from previous years can be found on our Violent Incidents Database
|World Watch List, Open Doors International (2020)||Private sphere||9.6|
|Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016
Pew Research Center (2018)
|Government Restrictions Index||5.0|
|Social Hostilities Index (SHI)||0.0|
|Government religious preference, Religious Characteristics of States Data Project
Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion (2015)
|Government Religious Preference composite score – preferred religion (PRFGRP)||1.4|
|Government Religious Preference composite score – non-preferred religion (NPRFGRP)||1.2|
|The Main Religion and State Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
|Official Religion (SAX)||No|
|Official Support (SBX)||Nonspecific Hostility: While the state is hostile to religion, this hostility is at about the same level as state hostility to other types of non-state organizations. Religion is not singled out.|
|Religious Discrimination Against Minority Religions (MXX)||38|
|Regulation of and Restrictions on the Majority Religion or All Religions (NXX)||27|
|Specific Types of Religious Support (LXX)||3|
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
|Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence against minority religions: General (WSOCDISX2014)||2|
|Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the majority religion (WMIN2MAJX2014)||0|
|Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the other minority religions (WMIN2MINX2014)||0|
|Societal regulation of religion (WSOCREGX2014)||0|
|CIRI Human Rights Data Project (2011)||Freedom of religion (NEW_RELFRE)||0|
|Religion and State-Minorities Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
|Governmental Discrimination (MMXX2014)
|International Religious Freedom Data
The Association of Religion Date Archives (2008)
|Government Regulation of Religion Index (GRI_08)||7.2|
|Government Favoritism of Religion Index (GFI_08)||1.9|
|Social Regulation of Religion Index (MSRI_08)||3.3|
|Religious Freedom Rating
Hudson Institute (2007)
|Religious Freedom Scale||6|
For more data about the indicators click here.
Public Policy Recommendations
- The Cuban government must ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and progressively comply with the obligations derived from this international instrument, including the protection and promotion of the right to religious freedom and worship.
- The government should evaluate the recommendations provided by national civil society organizations, as well as by the international community regarding human rights protection, with special emphasis on the right to religious freedom in order to eradicate restrictive practices against religious institutions.
- The Cuban government should reform the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee and stop any activity from this state entity, or any other, that endangers or limits the free exercise of religious freedom on the island.
- The international community should assist religious organizations, religious communities, and civil society organizations dedicated to promoting religious freedom to carry out their work. This should include not only training but also legal advice and assistance that allows them to deal with the restrictions imposed upon them by the government.