- Population: 11,338,138
- Main Language: Spanish
- Official Religion: None
- Main Religion: Predominantly Christian and majority Catholic Christians
- Other Religions: Buddhists, ethnoreligious, Hindus, Judaism, Muslims, among others
- President: Miguel Díaz – Canel (2019-2024). In Cuba, the deputies are the ones who, in their opinion, propose and elect the members of the Council of State, that is, the president, first vice president, vice presidents, secretary, and other members.
Cuba is one of the few remaining communist regimes in the world. The last Constitution approved after a referendum process (2019) states that it is a socialist estate of law and social justice, democratic, independent, and sovereign, organized as a unitary republic.
The constitution and international treaties are part of the Cuban constitutional block; however, the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba takes precedence over these international treaties.
The government operates under a single-party regime, that of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), inspired by the ideals of José Martí, consolidated over the years by the Castro regime and now by successor Miguel Díaz-Canel, President elected in October 2019.
The new constitution designates the PCC as the superior leading political force of society and the State, that is, it controls all the powers and institutions of the country. In the same way, the current president has demonstrated a total adherence to the postulates of communism and the continuity of the revolution on the island, maintaining an authoritarian and repressive policy.
In the midst of a non-existent rule of law, human rights continue to be seriously violated. Among the actions carried out by the regime against critics or dissidents of the regime are arbitrary arrests and detentions, censorship, abuse of the security forces, limitations of movement within Cuban territory, travel restrictions, and violations of civil rights and politicians such as the right to freedom of expression, association, assembly, religious freedom, among others. This context has worsened amid the health crisis caused by COVID-19.
General Description of the State of Religious Freedom
Figure 1: Religious Freedom – Main legal framework
|Freedom of religion||Religious Education||
Military Service/Spiritual attention Armed Forces
The Cuban population mostly adheres to the Christian religion. However, there is also a significant number of the population not affiliated with any religion. Other religious minorities present in the country include New Age groups, Hinduists, Muslims, Buddhists and other Afro-Cuban cults.
On the island there is an ecumenical movement, with a Cuban Interreligious Platform that seeks interdenominational dialogue but, like other civil society organizations, does not have an important representation in the public space.
Shortly after the triumph of the revolution in the country, when the repressive tactics led by Fidel Castro intensified, the relationship between the Church and the government changed completely. The initial support of the Church turned into the rejection of the measures adopted by the new government, an attitude considered anti-revolutionary and that sparked oppressive maneuvers against the Church, as well as the declaration of Cuba to be an atheist nation for a long time. Being a member of the party and attending church was incompatible, with very serious social consequences.
As of the 1992 Constitution, the State formally recognizes freedom of conscience and religion. In the same way, the Constitution reformed in 2019 recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious freedom. Different beliefs and religions are given equal consideration. It is reaffirmed that the Cuban state is secular and that religious institution and fraternal associations are separate from the state. It also states that everyone has the right to profess or not religious beliefs, to change them, and to practice the religion of his preference.
However, the new Constitution establishes that conscientious objection cannot be invoked for the purpose of evading compliance with the law. Under the constitutional prism, the law must follow the superior force of the communist party, therefore, one cannot allege conscientious objection if the reason behind it does not strictly adhere to the postulates of the regime.
With regard to the family, the Constitution indicates that mothers and fathers have essential responsibilities and functions in the education and training of the new generations in moral, ethical, and civic values, provided that it is in correspondence with a socialist society. That is to say, the upbringing of children and young people cannot move away from the socialist ideology
Additionally, norms such as Decree-Law 370 “On the computerization of society in Cuba” are used to interrogate, threaten and confiscate means of work to anyone who disseminates information contrary to social interest on social networks. Under this decree, fines applied with exorbitant amounts – for many Cuban workers – lead to non-compliance in payment and subsequent imprisonment. This regulation, in addition to limiting freedom of expression, also limits all religious manifestations whose content is in opposition to the regime.
In practice, the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party – ORA, is the entity responsible for applying government directives to religious affairs. It is also responsible for the Church-State relationship since it represents the State among the different religious groups in the country.
Various religious leaders, religious groups, and civil society organizations have stated that the ORA is one of the main agents of religious repression in Cuba since it is responsible for imposing practices that are aligned with the regime and limits all who question it. This office is responsible for conditioning permits for the construction of temples, the immigration status of religious leaders, authorizations, among others. It also controls the Council of Churches of Cuba-CIC, an ecumenical community of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions.
After decades of disagreements with the CIC, seven Protestant denominations have formed the “Alliance of Cuban Evangelical Churches“, an organization that aspired to be a united front against government intimidation of Christians, but whose members are constantly monitored and intimidated by the regime.
A. Religious restrictions from totalitarian government control
Castroism has governed Cuba since 1959, first under the leadership of the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro and now under the presidency of Miguel Díaz-Cannel, a continuation of the regime. For the last 62 years the Communist Party has exercised an authoritarian form of government with no room for any form of dissent.
Any opposition or criticism by religious leaders is sanctioned. It is the Christian religion that has been the most vocal against the government and therefore the one that has become a special target of hostilities.
The Cuban church is one of 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. Therefore, churches, religious leaders, and/or religious groups that advocate for religious freedom, the defense of human rights or the return to democracy, or those that condemn totalitarian government measures face retaliation and like Their families are subject 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. Their temples are demolished or confiscated. In some cases, the harassment is such that they even have to flee the country.
Another particularly vulnerable group is made up of unregistered churches. These are made up almost entirely by evangelical churches, which due to their continuous growth are seen as a threat to the government in power, becoming the target of increased repression. In particular, security agents monitor these unofficial churches, intervene in religious activities taking place there, and intimidate assistants and coordinators, especially if they are known opponents of the regime.
Similarly, activists and religious leaders are considered rebels for speaking out against the Constitution. Organizations like the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba are monitored by the Office of Religious Affairs for not adhering to government guidelines.
As a result of the strict control that the government exercises over the territory, religious groups find it difficult to celebrate masses, meet, or carry out their activities. If they manage to do so, they are constantly monitored, a situation that has worsened in the context of COVID-19. This situation, in addition to violating the multiple dimensions of the right to religious freedom, can lead, in order to avoid reprisals, to self-censorship of the members of these religious groups branded as opponents or enemies of the homeland.
B. Religious restrictions from anti-religion 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. The transmission of the faith, as long as it is incompatible with the communist doctrine and the interests of the party, is sanctioned.
In addition to the cruelty against Christians on the island, cases of discrimination against Jews and Muslims by the authorities and supporters of the regime have also been reported.
C. 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.
Religious freedom and the COVID-19 pandemic
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:
- “Eden” Baptist Church demolished: The III Baptist Church “Eden” was demolished under the order of Physical Planning inspectors and local authorities. The temple served about 100 people, the material losses due to the demolition amount to 150,000 pesos.
- Authorities throw stones at the Missionary Church: Pastor Yoel Demetrio denounces the new method of repression used by the Cuban authorities. According to the pastor, the Cuban authorities have been repressing him and his family for years, due to their continuing fight for freedom of religion on the island. The pastor affirms that the newest method of repression used by the authorities is the throwing of stones at the Missionary Church. The pastor lives here with his family since the regime evicted him from his house.
- Evangelical journalist threatened: Yoe Suárez, an independent Cuban journalist of evangelical faith, was summoned to the Siboney police station in Havana on March 27, where he was questioned by the police and threatened with imprisonment and unspecified “repercussions” for his family. The journalist fears for his life and that of his family. Previously, security agents warned him that his journalistic work for independent media could have consequences for the safety of his wife and child.
Figure 2: Violent incidents reported in Cuba (201 8-2020)
|(Attempts) to destroy, vandalize or desecrate places of worship or religious buildings||0||2||5|
|Closed places of worship or religious buildings||0||1||1|
|Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse)||1||1||12|
|Attacked houses/property of faith adherents||1||0||2|
|Attacked shops, businesses or institutions of faith adherents||0||0||1|
|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 (2021)||Private sphere||10.9|
|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.
- As a current member of the UN Human Rights Council, the Cuban government must modify its human rights policy in order to guarantee and protect the fundamental freedoms of the Cuban population. A first step may be to allow the visit of international organizations to verify the current human rights situation 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.
- 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.