The Miami Herald
Oct. 08, 2002

Report: Religion in Cuba still reined-in

  BY TIM JOHNSON

  WASHINGTON - Cuban security agents often spy on those who worship in churches on the island, and the government of Fidel Castro continues to keep a tight grip on religious activity, the State Department said Monday in a report on religious freedom around the world.

  The report, which covers respect for religious worship in 190 countries, cited ''no change'' in Cuba's treatment of religious freedom in the past year.

  The Castro government still blocks construction of new churches, limits the arrival of foreign priests and refuses to recognize most new denominations, although it now tolerates the Baha'i faith, the report said. Some private houses of worship were shut down.

  ''In practice the government refuses to register most new denominations,'' the report said. ``Unregistered religious groups continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression.''

  While the Castro government didn't jail any Cubans for their religious beliefs, government agents kept a careful eye on religious activities.

  ''The Ministry of the Interior continued to engage in efforts to control and monitor religious activities, and to use surveillance, infiltration, and harassment against
  religious groups and religious professionals and lay persons,'' the report said.

  The report said Cuba is one of six countries with widespread repression of religion, along with China, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea and Vietnam. The State Department report noted improvements in respect for religious freedom in Afghanistan, Egypt, Laos and parts of southeastern Europe.

  In a historic trip to Cuba in 1998, Pope John Paul II urged the Castro government to accept greater religious activity and permit religious schooling. The pontiff also
  exhorted Castro to open up the island's political system.

  After the 1959 revolution, Castro expelled or jailed more than 130 Catholic religious workers but began to ease up in 1992, when the Communist Party said it would accept members who proclaimed religious faith.

  The Roman Catholic Church is still seen as a potential haven for opponents of the Castro regime, the report said.

  'State security officials visited some priests and pastors prior to significant religious events, ostensibly to warn them that dissidents are trying to `use the Church,' '' the report said. ``However, some critics claimed that these visits were done in an effort to foster mistrust between the churches and human rights or pro-democracy
  activists.''

  Elsewhere in Latin America, the report said:

  President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela called the Catholic Church in his country ''a tumor on society'' in a speech on Jan. 24.

  In April, the National Guard harassed missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) by conducting strip searches of them.