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CUBA: After Fidel Castro

December 2, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – With the passing of Fidel Castro on November 25, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urges the Cuban government to take a long hard look at his legacy, especially with regard to the oppressive treatment of religion which has marked the country’s history since Castro's rise to power in 1959. 

While USCIRF has noted that some improvements have been made in recent years in the area of religious freedom, our Annual Reports document the Cuban government’s continued violations. Areas of concern include: harassment of religious leaders and laity, interference in religious groups’ internal affairs, and preventing democracy and human rights activists from participating in religious activities. The government also has threatened to close and confiscate church properties and reportedly has demolished some churches.

“USCIRF hopes that the Cuban government will now act decisively to turn the page toward freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.  Despite constitutional protections, the government actively limits and controls religious practices through restrictive laws and policies, and surveillance and harassment. There is much that needs to change for the Cuban people, and Raul Castro and other Cuban officials should be judged by their actions.”

While USCIRF does not take a position for or against the U.S embargo of Cuba, as part of the U.S.-Cuba ongoing discussions, the U.S. government should continue to emphasize that the Cuban government needs to improve religious freedom conditions on the island.  

In its 2016 Annual Report, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should press the Cuban government to: stop arrests and harassment of religious leaders; end the practice of preventing democracy and human rights activists from attending religious services; cease interference with religious activities and religious communities’ internal affairs; allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally and revise government policies that restrict religious services in homes or other personal property; lift restrictions on the building or repairing of houses of worship, holding of religious processions, importation of religious materials, and admittance of religious leaders; and hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of religious practitioners.

USCIRF placed Cuba on its Tier 2 list in its 2016 Annual Report. In Tier 2 countries, the violations the government engages in or tolerates are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the International Religious Freedom Act’s “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. For more information, please refer to the Cuba chapter in USCIRF’s 2016 Report (in English and in Spanish).

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0615.