By BosNewsLife Americas Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– The leader of a major Cuban network of independent churches and his family have urged Cuba’s government to let them leave the Communist-run island following years of harassment, including imprisonment, Christian rights activists told BosNewsLife Monday, November 7.
Pastor Omar Gude Perez of the growing ‘Apostolic Movement’, his wife and two children were granted asylum in the United States in July but were refused permission to exit Cuba, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“We are deeply concerned at the news that Cuban officials have once again declined to issue the Gude family an exit visa,” added CSW’s Special Ambassador Stuart Windsor in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Pastor Gude, served almost three years of a six and a half year prison sentence on what his supported called “trumped up charges”. He was released on “conditional liberty” earlier this year but is reportedly prohibited from preaching or from traveling outside his home city of Camaguey.
“After receiving asylum in the US in July, the couple was informed by government officials that they would not be issued exit visas, or “white cards”, as they are called in Cuba,” CSW said.
“NEGATIVE PRESS COVERAGE”
Following “negative press coverage” officials told the family they would in fact “be allowed to leave, but three months on they say they have yet to see any indication that they will be permitted to go into exile,” CSW explained.
The family reportedly said they are concerned about “the long delays and contradictory messages.”
Another couple, both pastors from the same network in Camaguey as the Gude family, have also been harassed by government officials and threatened with imprisonment and forcible closure of their church,according to Christian rights activists.
“On the most recent occasion, Benito Rodríguez and Bárbara Guzmán were ordered to appear at the local Ministry of Justice on 11 October and fined 200 Cuban pesos, approximately a one month’s salary in Cuba,’ CSW added in a statement.
These are no isolated incidents. Last month a Baptist pastor in the province of Santa Clara, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, was reportedly put under house arrest on multiple occasions.
GOVERNMENT “WARNS” FAMILY
“Officials warned the family that they could be a target of an “act of repudiation”, government orchestrated mobs often mobilized by officials to intimidate and attack human rights and democracy activists,” CSW explained. “News of increased pressure and threats against other church leaders is also extremely worrying,” said Windsor. ”
He stressed his group has urged Cuba “to uphold its commitments as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to cease harassment of religious leaders.”
“We hope that the government will also honor its promise to the Gude family to allow them to leave the country and begin a new life in the United States without any further delay.”
Cuban officials did not comment on the latest cases. However the Cuban government has repeatedly denied holding any political or Christian dissidents saying those held are mercenaries paid by the United States.
OPPOSITION MOVEMENT DIFFICULTIES
The reported crackdown on Christians come also at a difficult time for Cuba’s small opposition movement.
Leading dissident Guillermo Fariñas was released last week from a jail in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara after spending two days in custody. He was detained Tuesday, November 1, when trying to enter Arnaldo Milian Castro Provincial Hospital to visit fellow dissident Alcides Rivera, who has been on hunger strike for over a month.
Last year, he went on a four-and-a-half-month fast to demand the release of political prisoners following the death of Orlando Zapata, who died February 23, 2010, after a lengthy hunger strike behind bars to protest jail conditions.
The international outcry over Zapata’s death prompted the Cuban government to launch a Spain-backed dialogue last year with the Cuban Catholic hierarchy that led to the release of over 100 political prisoners. Those released included dozens of dissidents jailed in March 2003 amid what observers called “the harshest crackdown” in decades.
Since last month they continue without Laura Pollan, the founder of the Ladies in White, who every Sunday walk out and march in silence along Havana’s busy Fifth Avenue, dressed in white and carrying red gladiolas. She died at te age of 63 on October 14 following her peaceful battle for human rights that included the release of her activist husband Cuban dissident Hector Maseda, after eight years in prison.