Calls for Cuban officials to be barred from the US over religious freedom violations

A woman walks through the colonnades in Cienfuegos, Cuba(Photo: Unsplash/elCarito)

The US government is being urged to bar Cuban officials from entering the country over reports that religious minorities are facing increasing persecution.

In particular, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) wants an entry ban imposed on Caridad del Rosario Diego Bello, head of the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA).

She has been consistently singled out by religious leaders in the country as being responsible for many of the religious freedom violations that are occurring.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide said that the Cuban government has intensified pressure on religious groups, with travel bans arbitrarily imposed on four leaders linked to the new Cuban Evangelical Alliance in recent months. 

Another church leader, Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente, who heads a large unregistered church in Santiago de Cuba, was prevented from boarding a flight in July and told that he was under a permanent travel ban for reasons related to national defense and security, CSW reports. The travel ban cannot be appealed. 

Valiente's church is affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, which the ORA has refused to register.  CSW reports that the denomination has been subjected to some of the most severe persecution, with Valiente's church having been demolished two times, once in 2007 and again in 2016. 

When his church hosted a women's event in August, he was accused of committing the crime of "disobedience" and he now fears that he will be imprisoned by the state. 

In other infractions, some Protestant denominations have reported facing barriers to receiving the visas required by Cuba to host visitors from abroad.

They say that the ORA, under Diego Bello's leadership, has throughout this year refused to grant the religious visitor visas. 

They believe this to be an act of retaliation on the part of the state after the churches refused to give their backing to the country's new constitution. 

CSW said it feared that the ORA is now trying to 'break' the Cuban Evangelical Alliance. 

Anna-Lee Stangl, Head of Advocacy at CSW, welcomed the recommendation from the USCIRF. 

"This would be particularly appropriate at this time following the recent measures taken by the Office of Religious Affairs and other Cuban government institutions to prohibit certain religious leaders from traveling outside the country and the denial of religious visas for foreign visitors as a pressure tactic," she said.

"We call on the Cuban government to all Cuban religious groups to travel freely and receive visitors from abroad without hindrance."