Cuba: religious freedom violations continue to rise

cuba relig repress

Pastor Esmir Torreblanca standing in the ruins of his church and home. Photo: CSW.

The Cuban government continues to repress religious believers and its Office of Religious Affairs, responsible for official permits to worship, continues to monitors and harasses churches, according to a new report from the widely-respected, UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The well-documented report, which covers a period of 19 months ending in July of this year, includes details of the destruction of churches and notes that the Office of Religious Affairs is an official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, writes Frank Calzon, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Religious leaders say that if there is a need for supervision of the churches, it should be done by the government, and not by an arm of the ruling Party. This unique situation was alluded to by Pope John Paul II when he visited Cuba and called on the authorities to set aside “antiquated structures.”

The report calls on the European Union, the United States government, and other governments around the world not to ignore both religious repression in Cuba and the fact that “over the past decades the Castro regime has proved adept at sleight of hand tricks to convince the international community that it is committed to improvements in the human rights situation. Its approach to religious freedom has been no different.”

“Despite government claims of increased respect for religious freedom, reported violation of religious freedom in Cuba continued to increase dramatically,” CSW says. The report entitled “Cuba: Religious Freedom” says that “government agents continued to employ more brutal and public tactics than witnessed in the first decade of the millennium.” Christians in Cuba continue to report varying levels of discrimination in educational institutions and in their places of employment,” CSW says.

The scarcity of Bibles and other religious literature is due to “harsh government restrictions on the import of Bibles and other religious materials and a lack of access to printing infrastructure in the island.” The organization says that it has received “sporadic reports of violent beatings of Protestant Pastors and lay workers in different parts of the country.”

“Week after week, scores of women were physically and violently dragged away from Sunday morning services by state security agents,” and in many parts of the island, particularly in rural areas “the government has destroyed church properties.”

“On 2 July 2014 Cuban government agents including state security and Cuban Communist Party officials, destroyed a church and home affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. The unannounced demolition of the Establishing the Kingdom of God Church began at 6am while the owners of the home and their young children were sleeping inside.”

“They arrived and violently broke down the front door which was locked, the police entered with batons alongside a group of men carrying machetes. They began to destroy and occupy the properties of the pastor and the church,” according to Pastor Marcos A. Perdomo Silva, a church leader.  

“Photos taken at the scene show uniformed officers directing a bulldozer leveling the area where the church and home stood… Pastor Esmir Torreblanca, his wife, and his two children aged two and seven were left homeless…The following Sunday, members of the church met at the site for open air worship.” 

Frank Calzon is Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

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Victims of communism ‘deserve a museum’


Credit: Daily Beast

Credit: Daily Beast

The notion that Marxist-Leninist ideology is not responsible for the estimated 100 million deaths perpetrated by communist regimes has long been de rigeur among a broad segment of the intellectual elite, James Kirchick writes for the Daily Beast.

“The key to understanding Marxism’s renaissance in the west,” a 2012 article in The Guardian noted, is that, “for younger people, it is untainted by association with Stalinist gulags.” This retrospective amnesia alternately reveals a generational ignorance about the ideology and nature of communism as well as evidence of the need to educate the public about its horrors. 

That’s the goal of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which hopes to break ground for the construction of a “world-class” museum on the National Mall in 2017, the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The museum would include witness testimony, artifacts, and interactive exhibits registering the toll communism has wrought in some 40 countries throughout history. Such an institution would join the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in teaching future generations about man’s capacity for inhumanity. 

“It is perhaps one of the biggest lies that exist in our culture today that the deadliest ideology in history is somehow not responsible for the regimes that it brought to life and the deaths that it caused,” says Marion Smith, executive director of the foundation. “Ideas have consequences and there has never been a communist regime that did not end up killing its own people as a goal.” 

Smith is right. From Stalin’s gulags to the Cambodian Killing Fields to Mao’s famines, there is not a single communist government in history that was not both tyrannical and left horrifying death and destruction in its wake. According to the Black Book of Communism, regimes inspired by Marxist-Leninism are responsible for some 100 million deaths (and counting), making communism the 20th century’s most fatal ideology. 

“I think it’s in some ways shameful that we haven’t done more to recognize America’s very important role in winning the Cold War,” says Arch Puddington, the vice president of research at Freedom House who has written a history of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and a biography of Lane Kirkland, the anti-communist leader of the AFL-CIO.


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ISIS, radicalization and the making of a disaster

iraq isis spectatorAlmost 13 years after 9/11, a jihadi organization with a murderous anti-Western ideology controls territory in Iraq and Syria, which are closer to Europe and the United States than Afghanistan is, Roger Cohen writes for the New York Times:

What went wrong? The United States and its allies did not go to war to eradicate Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan only to face — after the expenditure of so much blood and treasure — a more proximate terrorist threat with a Qaeda-like ideology. ….More than 500, and perhaps as many as 800, British Muslims have headed for Syria and Iraq to enlist in the jihadi ranks. In France, that number stands at about 900. …The ideological appeal of the likes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is intact. It may be increasing, despite efforts to build an interfaith dialogue, reach out to moderate Islam, and pre-empt radicalization.

“One minute you are trying to pay bills, the next you’re running around Syria with a machine gun,” said Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a British research group that seeks to tackle religious extremism. “Many young British Muslims are confused about their identity, and they buy into a narrow framework that can explain events. Jihadists hand them a simplistic narrative of good versus evil. They give them camaraderie and certainty. ISIS makes them feel part of a grand struggle.”

A large part of Western failure has been the inability to counter the attraction of such extremism, Cohen notes:

Perhaps racked with historical guilt, European nations with populations from former colonies often seem unable to celebrate their values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Meanwhile, in the Arab world the central hope of the Arab Spring has been dashed: that more open and representative societies would reduce the frustration that leads to extremism…..ISIS grew through American weakness — the setting of objectives and red lines in Syria that proved vacuous. But the deepest American and Western defeat has been ideological.

As Hussain said, “If you don’t have a concerted strategy to undermine their narrative, their values, their worldview, you are not going to succeed. Everyone in society has to take on the challenge.”RTWT

The rise of radicalism in Iraq and Syria has many causes, but a key element is the failure of national governments and regional and global powers to address core political issues and grievances. The new radicals are not terrorists on the old model, but a well-funded, advanced military force with well-developed command and control and large ambitions. Their members hail from dozens of countries where democratic transitions have stalled or failed, corruption is rampant, and authoritarian leaders privilege political and economic “stability” control over freedom, democracy and accountability. Now increasing numbers of alienated young people, some of the same youth that spearheaded the Arab spring three and a half years ago, are drawn to this new cause.

To address these issues, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) is organizing a panel on ISIS, radicalization, and the politics of violence and alienation to address the policies and policy failures that have led to this dark new challenge to the region and the global community. CSID has invited some of the leading American experts on Islamic world and U.S. foreign policy to present their views on these critically important issues. 

ISIS, Radicalization, and the Politics of

Violence and Alienation


John Esposito

Georgetown University

Michael O’Hanlon

The Brookings Institution

Michelle Dunne

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Shadi Hamid

The Brookings Institution


Wiliam Lawrence

Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy

Thursday, August 28, 2014

12 Noon to 2:00 PM

National Press Club, The Holeman Lounge - 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor

Washington DC 20045

A light lunch will be available between 12:00 and 12:15 on a first-come first-served basis


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Pakistan’s ideological milieu helps Islamist extremism

pakistantalibanSince independence, Pakistanis have been told, and with greater vehemence since 1977 with the rule of military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, that their country is a “citadel of Islam,” that its destiny is to be an Islamic State and its army is “the sword of Islam,” writes Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, Washington DC:

Advocates of modern, secular values, even pluralism, are denigrated as “enemies of the ideology of Pakistan,” therefore cast as “traitors to Pakistan.” Pakistan’s establishment, led by its military, also seeks parity with India, not only in the legal sense of sovereign equality between nations but in military and political terms.

This ideological milieu has helped religious-political groups exercise greater influence on national discourse than is justified by either the size of their membership or number of votes in Pakistan’s sporadic general elections and led to the outgrowth of jihadi groups, one more extreme than the other.

Pakistan’s fragile democratic transition will be gravely threatened unless a fast-escalating political crisis is urgently defused, says the International Crisis Group:

The protests rocking Islamabad threaten to upend the constitutional order, set back rule of law and open the possibility of a soft coup, with the military ruling through the backdoor. Renewed political instability at the centre would imperil any progress that has been made in addressing grievous economic, development and security challenges. The government’s moves, supported by the parliamentary opposition, to accommodate some of the protestors’ demands – particularly as regards electoral reform – are welcome. It is worrying, however, that protest leaders appear adamant in rejecting such outreach. Crisis Group calls on the political and military leadership to continue adherence to the constitution and enforcement of the rule of law, while permitting the right to peaceful protest. 

Protesting with several thousand supporters in front of the national parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Imran Khan and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) cleric-cum-politician leader Tahirul Qadri are demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.

PakistanKhan comes from the same privileged background as the politicians he wants to overthrow, writes the FT’s Victor Mallet:

Nor is he new to politics. He founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) in 1996, four years after he led his country to victory in cricket’s World Cup, and it was not until the run-up to last year’s general election that it made a big impact, eventually winning 34 of the 342 seats in parliament. His critics accuse the former playboy, now a devout Muslim, of failing to recognise the dangers of Sunni Muslim extremism in Taliban suicide bombings and shootings in recent years

He campaigned vigorously against corruption and has won favour, particularly with fellow Pashtuns of the clans that straddle the Afghan-Pakistan border, for criticising US drone attacks targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. He threatened to shoot down the drones if he won the general election; but the predicted nationwide “tsunami” of votes in his favour did not materialise.

“Imran’s vanity is greater than any vision he might have,” says Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US and author, most recently, of “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an epic history of misunderstanding.”

“He can’t come to terms with the fact that he lost the last election and did not become prime minister when he thought he had the job within his reach. He believes he knows how to set Pakistan right, does not have patience for the political process and is clearly being egged on by retired – and possibly serving – generals, who want to clip the wings of the civilian government.”

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Afghan candidate threatens to withdraw



Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened on Tuesday to withdraw (AFP) from a United Nations-supervised audit of votes cast in the disputed election, potentially undermining a process aimed at rescuing the country’s first democratic transfer of power, according to the Council on Foreign Relations:

The audit was part of a U.S.-brokered deal between presidential candidates Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both of whom claim election victory in the contest to succeed President Hamid Karzai (Reuters). General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said Monday that the United States had devised plans that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year if the election stalemate persisted and prevented the signing of a security agreement (AP).


“The best available solution is for Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani to cooperate fully with the ballot audit, accept the results (which were never going to be fraud-free, given the immaturity of the democratic system) and quickly form a functioning government that reflects the country’s diversity. If they manage to do that, there might be some hope that they could, in time, restore voter trust and put Afghanistan on the path to a real democracy,” writes the New York Times.

“More broadly, it isn’t clear that the number of U.S. boots on the ground translates into meaningful political leverage, or is necessarily conducive to an enduring, much less healthy, stability. That doesn’t mean that the U.S. shouldn’t push Ghani and Abdullah to compromise, and continue providing economic support,” writes Bloomberg.

There is also independent evidence of large-scale fraud, mostly on Mr. Ghani’s behalf, the New York Times reports:

The most credible local election observer organization, the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, has submitted 2,684 files of cases of major irregularities and fraud, including blatant ballot stuffing, to the Electoral Complaints Commission. “We have videos of I.E.C. officials doing it for both sides,” said Nader Nadery, the head of the observer group [apartner of the National Endowment for Democracy.]

“Iraq could hardly be a clearer cautionary tale: If the United States withdraws before the Afghan security forces are fully prepared to lead the fight against the Taliban and to deny safe haven to al Qaeda, jihadists are almost certain to regain safe haven there, much as the Islamic State (IS) has gained ground since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. That is what losing the war in Afghanistan looks like,” writes Paul Miller for Foreign Policy.

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