Cuban government refuses to release church funds  15/01/2013

Church leaders in the Cuban city of Santa Clara have condemned the Cuban government's refusal to allow Trinidad First Baptist Church access to its bank account. The accounts for the historic local church, with funds amounting to approximately US$27,000, were frozen by government officials in 2010.

In an open letter published in October 2010, the longstanding pastor of the church, Reverend Homero Carbonell, expressed hope that his retirement would convince the government to restore the church's access to its accounts, which were opened with the International Finance Bank in 1988. He and other church leaders believe the church was targeted in part because of his refusal to acquiesce to demands from state security that he bar members of the Cuban dissident movement, including Sakharov Prize winner Guillermo Fariñas, from attending the church.

According to another local Baptist pastor, Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, who authors the blog Cubano Confesante and is also a professor at the Luis Manuel González Peña Seminary, housed on the Trinidad Church's property, the retirement of Reverend Carbonell did not have the hoped-for effect.  The funds, the majority of which were donated by churches abroad for essential repairs to the 105 year-old church, remain inaccessible more than two years later.

Reverend Lleonart Barroso told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the current pastor of the Trinidad Baptist Church, Reverend Juan Carlos Mentado, “in the short time in which he has been there, has been an obliging leader, complying with every legal requirement, yet the government continues to punish the church.” 

The situation is made even more difficult by the fact that official decisions pertaining to religious organisations, such as the decision to freeze a church's bank accounts, are made by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, with no recourse for appeal. Reverend Lleonart Barroso added that repeated applications to Caridad Diego, the head of ORA, for legal recognition of the church seminary have also gone unanswered.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “A government that claims to respect religious freedom should not arbitrarily block a religious organisation from accessing its own funds.  We call on the Cuban government to release these funds immediately and to cease its harassment of the Trinidad First Baptist Church, and others who seek only to exercise their religious freedom as guaranteed in the Cuban Constitution. Although this is a matter of principle, it is especially reprehensible that Communist Party officials would block such a large amount of money, donated in good faith by churches abroad and vital for the repair of an important historic building.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Notes to Editors:

1. La Trinidad First Baptist Church of Santa Clara is part of the Western Convention of Cuban Baptists and is not a member of the Cuban Council of Churches. Together, the Eastern and Western Conventions of Baptists form one of the largest Protestant denominations on the island.

2. Penalties applied to the church before Reverend Carbonell retired included a prohibition on any foreigner travelling with a religious visa visiting the Trinidad First Baptist Church, non-authorisation of the purchase of a church van, and refusal to issue permission to Pastor Carbonell to leave the country to attend religious conferences abroad.

3. Pastor Carbonell's open letter, first published in 2010, is available in English and Spanish.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.

For more information, please call 0845 456 5464, email admin@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk