'Witch Hunt' Against Churches in Cuba Despite US Relations

Worshippers carry a statue of Jesus Christ during a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession on Good Friday in Havana, April 6, 2012. |

Cuban officials have reportedly ordered the demolishing of all churches in a neighborhood in the city of Santiago de Cuba, an action some Christians are calling a "witch hunt."

"There is a witch hunt against churches in Cuba at this time, mainly against the churches of apostolic and prophetic ministry. The communists have intensified in their hatred and persecution of the church following the Pope's visit to Cuba and the re-establishment of relations with the United States," said the Rev. Alain Toledano, who leads one of the targeted churches in the Abel Santa Maria neighborhood, according to a report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide on Tuesday.

"I request constant intercession on behalf of the churches in Cuba. In our case, this would be the second time that the racist communists have attempted to evict us from our house, throw us out on the street and demolish our temple, only now their diabolical hatred and fury is directed at other congregations too," he added.

Toledano said that other pastors and their families who live at the churches have been evicted, as part of the order issued late in November by Planning and Housing Officials.

The pastor said that Baptist and Assemblies of God denominations in Santiago, along with Assemblies of God churches in the Las Tunas Province, are among the targeted houses of worship.

Goverment officials are claiming that the churches are not legally registered, despite the pastor stating he has the paperwork to prove it.

CSW added that it has received a number of reports from both registered and unregistered denominations stating that authorities have been moving to confiscate property at their discretion, or being told they can stay if they pay the government very high rent.

"We continue to call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment and persecution of religious groups across Cuba. The land grabs and attempts to manipulate religious organizations, linked to efforts to confiscate church properties, must end," said CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

Southern Baptist churches reported a great growth in Christianity in Cuba earlier this year, with SBC's International Mission Board sending out 83,723 Spanish-language Bibles to the country in March.

Still, IMB strategy leader for Cuba, Kurt Urbanek, said at the time that Cuban authorities required a great deal of negotiation to allow the mass shipment of Bibles.

"The growth is so incredible, that's why Bibles are so important," Urbanek said about the rising number of believers.

Back in February, Cuba announced the construction of its first Roman Catholic Church since 1959, following a warming of relations both with the U.S. and the Vatican.

Church construction had been severely limited in Cuba following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro's rise in power, which also saw a large number of Catholic priests jailed or exiled.

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