Cuban authorities were forced to halt demolition of an Assemblies of God church in the city of Santiago de Cuba on 28 October when peaceful protestors, including the denomination’s regional head, held a spontaneous sit in at the church.
The protestors had taken part in an unauthorised march through the city and a peaceful demonstration at the local Cuban Communist Party (CCP) offices to protest ongoing government confiscations and demolitions of church properties.
Approximately 500 Christians reportedly
joined the march. Simultaneous protest marches were held in the cities of
Guantanamo and Contramaestre.
Church leaders in Santiago told
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the unprecedented march was organised
by the regional Assemblies of God leadership to protest a wave of government
expropriations of church property which began earlier this year. The protestors were gathered in front of the
CCP offices, singing and praying, when they learned that an order had been
given and demolition had begun on an Assemblies of God church. Pastor Fausto
Polemo, the leader of the church, was informed
earlier this year that his church was to be confiscated and he was
prohibited from holding any more services.
The protestors marched to the church,
located on Calle Marti, where they found that demolition had already begun and
the walls had been knocked down, despite the protests of the owner of the
property. They gathered under the roof which was still resting on the frame of the
building and which had not been destroyed. They then told the authorities that
if they wished to continue the demolition, it would have to be carried out with
CSW sources said that the march was
part of wider response by the Assemblies of God denomination to a general
crackdown on and expropriations of church properties which appear to be linked
to the implementation of new legislation in January.
Legal Decree 322 gives sweeping powers
to the authorities to confiscate property at their discretion and CSW has
received reports from numerous denominations that the law has been used to
target scores of churches, including historic properties, across the island.
The Assemblies of God leadership also sent a letter to Raul Castro declaring
their refusal to accept the expropriation of any of their churches or chapels,
accompanied by a petition with 23,739 signatures, which was amassed in five
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas
said “We stand with the Assemblies of God denomination in Cuba and every other
denomination that is fighting the illegal expropriation of their properties by
the Cuban government. The courage of these Christians in Santiago, who despite
the risks dared to march in solidarity in support of religious freedom and then
put their bodies between Pastor Polemo’s church and the demolition equipment,
is to be commended. We now call on the international community to stand in
solidarity with them as well and to press the Cuban government to repeal Legal
Decree 322 and to cease its attacks on churches across the country.”