Cuba: Wave of church demolitions halted by sit-in

The leaders of Cuba's Assemblies of God churches have written to President Raul Castro asking him to halt church demolitions.

A spontaneous sit-in at a church in Cuba scheduled for demolition has forced authorities to halt the bulldozers.

Around 500 protesters had taken part in a march through the city of Santiago de Cuba. Simultaneous marches were held in Guantanamo and Contramaestre. A demonstration was also held at the local Cuban Communist Party (CCP) offices to protest continuing government confiscations and demolitions of church properties.

The protesters were gathered in front of the CCP offices when they learned that demolition had begun on an Assemblies of God church.

The protesters marched to the church and found that it had already been partially demolished. They gathered under the roof, which was still resting on the frame of the building, and told the authorities that if they wished to continue the demolition, it would have to be carried out with them inside.

Pastor Fausto Polemo, the leader of the church, had been informed earlier this year that his church was to be confiscated and he was prohibited from holding any more services.

Church leaders in Santiago told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the march was organised by the regional Assemblies of God leadership to protest against a wave of government expropriations of church property which began earlier this year. 

CSW has received reports from numerous denominations that the law has been used to target scores of churches, including historic properties, across the island.

The Assemblies of God leadership also sent a letter to Raul Castro declaring their refusal to accept the expropriation of any of their churches or chapels, accompanied by a petition with 23,739 signatures, which was amassed in five days. 

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We stand with the Assemblies of God denomination in Cuba and every other denomination that is fighting the illegal expropriation of their properties by the Cuban government. The courage of these Christians in Santiago, who despite the risks dared to march in solidarity in support of religious freedom and then put their bodies between Pastor Polemo's church and the demolition equipment, is to be commended."

He called on the Cuban government to repeal the legislation and cease its attacks on churches.