Cuba fails to meet international religious freedom standards


The constitution Cuba adopted three years ago fails to meet freedom-of-religion standards based on international law, and the rights it established are unenforceable, a new report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded.

The commission released its report, Constitutional Reform and Religious Freedom in Cuba, less than a week before the one-year anniversary of nationwide protests in Cuba and government retribution against those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations.

“Despite constitutional protections for religious freedom that exist on paper, independent religious communities in Cuba continue to experience violations” of freedom of religion or belief, the commission’s report states.

“The constitution fails to meet international standards, its rights are not enforceable, it fails to be supreme law, and it yields to laws that can conflict with constitutionally established rights.”

Based on a survey of faith leaders and other research, the commission concluded the Cuban constitution fails to meet 34 of 36 freedom-of-religion standards established in international law, and it only partially meets the other two.

“Cuba’s new constitution, approved in April 2019, dilutes [freedom of religion or belief] guarantees compared with the previous constitution,” the report asserts.

The survey revealed 95 percent of respondents agree freedom of expression in religious pastoral practice is partially or totally repressed in Cuba; 93 percent of the faith leaders said they were victims of state repression; and 84 percent agreed freedom of assembly is impeded.

The report asserts the constitution “reduces the possibility of legal reforms” to enable religious freedom, and the absence of a court structure and judicial appeals to protect constitutional rights leave any constitutional protections unenforceable.

Cuba ‘not governed by its constitution’

Furthermore, the constitution “has no practical validity whatsoever over legislation that restricts rights” and no superior authority over laws adopted at the local level that restrict constitutional rights.

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“The removal of the sovereignty of the people, the explicit subordination to lower-level laws in its text, the impossibility of reforming constitutional laws due to the absence of a court of constitutional guarantees or a process for the protection of these rights, and the definition of the Communist Party as the ‘superior’ power of the State, without regulation in the constitution, make it incompatible with the internationally accepted concept of a constitution,” the report states.

For all practical purposes, rights related to freedom of religion or belief cannot be defended, and Cuba “is not governed by its constitution,” the commission’s report asserts.

“There are no legal mechanisms or legislation to protect against discrimination, hostility, or violence on religious grounds,” the report states.

Cuba has “a long history” of applying “inferior and often opaque laws” rather than constitutional protections, as well as administration actions ordered by the State Security and Communist Party, the report says.

“These are carried out in blatant violation of the many principles in the previous and current constitution,” the report states. “As a result, religious institutions and individuals are repressed, fostering deep distrust of the government by faith leaders and laypeople.”

The commission’s report particularly noted increased repression of religious freedom and human rights in 2021, including the detention of individuals who participated in peaceful protests on July 11 and November 15. Research showed 869 people remained imprisoned in March 2022 in connection with the protests.

‘A sop for international consumption’

The Cuban constitution and many of the nation’s laws are “a showcase for international consumption” enabling the government “to boast of its socialist system and guarantees of human rights to international organizations such as the UN,” the report concludes.

Randel Everett, founding president of the 21Wilberforce human rights organization, commended the commission for its report. He particularly applauded the report for noting Cuba’s constitution and laws “largely function as a sop for international consumption” rather than to protect its citizens.

Randel Everett 150
Randel Everett

“In a deeply religious nation, the Cuban Communist party ruthlessly governs at will, repressing religious individuals and institutions, among others, through comprehensive tactics including harassment, threats, physical attacks, confiscation of property, frequent police summons, defamation and accusations of illegal or immoral behavior, and detention and imprisonment,” said Everett, former executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

“We cannot forget the many religious prisoners of conscience detained in Cuba including Protestant Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, recently sentenced to eight years in prison for participating in last summer’s peaceful protests, and Loreto Hernández García, a leader of the Association of Free Yorubas [independent Santeria community], who was forced to return to prison in June after he was ordered expelled from the hospital where he had been receiving medical treatment.

Last November, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he was placing Cuba—along with Algeria, Comoros and Nicaragua—on the Special Watch List for governments that engage in or tolerate “severe violations of religious freedom.”

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