A prayer event focused on support for mothers and wives of political prisoners has been cancelled after the Cuban government made repeated threats to the organizers and to families of political prisoners who planned to participate.
The ‘Breaking the Chains’ prayer event was planned for 29-30 April and organised by Pastors Mario Jorge ‘Mayim’ Travieso and Velmis Adriana Medina Mariño, a married couple who lead the Mighty Wind Ministry in the city of Las Tunas in eastern Cuba.
On 11 April Pastor Travieso was walking to meet his wife for lunch when he was arbitrarily detained in the middle of the road in Las Tunas. His wife was detained separately, and the couple were taken by State Security agents and police officers to the Provincial Centre for Criminal Instruction where they were interrogated by counterintelligence agents for six hours. They were threatened with imprisonment if they did not suspend the prayer event.
On 12 April the wife of imprisoned pastor Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, Maridilegnis Carballo, told CSW that she had received a phone call from a State Security agent who refused to identify himself by name. He accused Mrs Carballo of having responsibility for organising the 'Breaking the Chains’ event and threatened her with imprisonment if she participated in it. The agent told Mrs Carballo that he would be “watching her constantly,” assuring her that “we have eyes and ears everywhere.” He warned her that they had plenty of evidence to build a criminal case against her.
The next day, on 13 April, Pastor Travieso posted pictures on social media along with a statement that State Security had placed a cordon around the home of Vivian Barredo Toledo, the secretary for the Breaking the Chains event, to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the house.
Over the past few weeks, Pastors Travieso and Medina Mariño have reported continued threats and harassment by State Security targeting church members and the mothers and wives of political prisoners who planned to participate in the event. On 26 April they reported that due to the threats, especially those made against the families of political prisoners, they had made the decision to cancel the event.
CSW has noted that since the 11 July 2021 protests and following the subsequent crackdown and mass arrests, the Cuban government has become especially concerned about any links between religious groups and political prisoners or their families. While the government has always attempted to socially isolate dissidents and their families, including by hindering their ability to participate in communities of faith, threats against religious leaders who continue to offer spiritual support to all have increased. In March, Father José Castor Álvarez Devesa described the engagement of religious groups with dissidents and families of political prisoners as ‘a new front’ and predicted that religious leaders would come under intensified pressure.
CSW’s Head of Advocacy and Americas Team Leader Anna Lee Stangl said: “The volume of resources that the Cuban government has put into stopping the Breaking the Chains prayer event is a clear demonstration of its deep-rooted fear of any relationship between religious groups and the families of those it has wrongfully imprisoned. CSW stands in solidarity with Pastors Travieso and Medina Mariño, and with all the mothers and wives who had simply hoped to come together to worship and pray in a peaceful religious event. We call on the international community to make it clear to the Cuban government that all political prisoners must be released and that it must cease its threats and harassment targeting religious leaders immediately.”