By BosNewsLife Americas Service
MIAMI/HAVANA (BosNewsLife)-- A prominent Christian rights activist and independent journalist from Cuba is spending her first weekend in freedom after arriving in the United States to escape reported persecution at home, her supporters confirmed.
Caridad Caballero arrived in Miami Thursday, June 27, following the sudden announcement earlier this week that she and her family were going into exile.
Caballero, a member of the Ladies in White, the Sakharov Prize-winning non-violent protest group, was targeted by Cuban security forces because of her Catholic faith and work as an independent journalist, fellow activists said.
Authorities reportedly blocked her from participating in any religious activities at the Jesus Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood of Holguin city.
Each week since the beginning of the year, Caballero’s home was surrounded by state security agents, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which closely followed the case.
She was frequently detained in prison, along with her husband and son, for the duration of Sunday morning mass, CSW said.
In addition, she was barred from attending weekly Bible studies or confirmation classes, Christians explained.
Even her baptism and confirmation into the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday was reportedly postponed when she was thrown into prison again.
"We are pleased that Caridad and her family will now be able to practice their faith in freedom in the United States. However, it is important to keep in mind the circumstances which led to their exile," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife.
Caballero was among hundreds of Catholic dissidents who were imprisoned for the duration of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in March.
Her unexpected departure comes when the Cuban government continues to prevent other Christians from leaving the Communist-run island, including Protestant pastor Omar Gude Perez, despite a U.S. offer to grant him political asylum.
The experiences of Caballero and Gude Perez are part of what CSW called "a sharp increase in religious freedom violations" in Cuba this year.
CSW says it has recorded over 60 such violations, some involving large groups of people, in the first half of the year.
"It is imperative that the international community holds Cuba to account and insists that religious freedom and other basic human rights be upheld," Thomas said.
"In addition, we continue to urge to the Cuban government to issue Pastor Gude Perez an exit visa as soon as possible.”
Some Christian leaders have said they remain hopeful life will eventually improve for devoted Christians after authorities allowed an unprecedented outdoor evangelism meeting.
Some 10,000 people attended Cuba's first evangelistic outdoor rally in decades with many accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior at the event, evangelical aid and mission group Bright Hope said Thursday, June 28.
Its church partners reportedly said the crowd "overflowed the large public square" in the Cuban city of Santa Lucia in Holguín Province, after a previous reported government crackdown on evangelical churches.
Raul Castro, the world's longest-serving defense minister, took over as president in February 2008, promising reforms after succeeding his ailing brother Fidel, who had been in power for five decades.
While he eased some restrictions on personal freedoms by lifting bans on mobile phones and home computers, rights activists say he still has to ensure that everyone can travel abroad as tourists and to ensure that churches can operate more freely.