A leader of one of the largest independent religious groups in Cuba arrived in the United States on 24 July, accompanied by his wife and two of his daughters. They have been granted parole, which gives them emergency leave to enter the country.
Alain Toledano Valiente has been targeted by the Cuban government for over 20 years because of his leadership in the Apostolic Movement, a charismatic Protestant Christian network which the government has refused to register. On 25 June, Cuban State Security gave him a 30-day deadline to leave the country or face the possibility of long-term imprisonment.
Pastor Toledano Valiente and his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa, are the leaders of one of the largest churches in terms of attendees in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Over the past 20 years, the church building has been demolished twice by the government and both the pastor and his wife have been subjected to short term arbitrary detention numerous times. In recent years, Pastor Toledano Valiente has been summoned repeatedly by the police and State Security, interrogated and threatened with imprisonment. His daughters have been the targets of bullying and violence at school, orchestrated by school officials with the backing of State Security.
In October 2021, Cuban officials informed Pastor Toledano Valiente, that a criminal case against him had been prepared, meaning he could be arrested and imprisoned at any time. He has been under an intermittent travel ban over the past four years. In July 2019 he was blocked from boarding a flight to attend the United States Ministerial on International Religious Freedom, and was told he was banned from leaving Cuba due to national security concerns. In June 2022, he was stopped again from traveling to the US, this time to attend the Summit of the Americas where he was meant to participate in side events on freedom of religion or belief. Shortly thereafter, he was informed that the travel ban would be lifted on the condition that he leave the country within 30 days.
The pastor and his family received support from US-based Organisation Outreach Aid to the Americas (OAA), which worked with US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, to obtain emergency parole for the pastor, allowing him safe entry into the country. Two of the pastor’s adult daughters and their children remain in Cuba.
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: “We are glad that Pastor Toledano Valiente and his family are now in a safe place, but are saddened that they were forced by the Cuban authorities to leave their home under threat of his imprisonment because of his and his wife’s leadership of an independent religious group. A choice of exile or prison is no choice it all; the international community must put pressure on the Cuban government to stop forcibly exiling anyone it views as unsupportive and to make meaningful reforms that guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief and other fundamental rights. The departure of Pastor Toledano Valiente and his family is a great loss not only for their religious community in Santiago de Cuba, but for Cuba as a whole. We pray that conditions will change to allow for their return to a free and democratic Cuba where the rights of all are protected.”
Notes to Editors:
- Parole allows an individual who may be inadmissible or otherwise ineligible for admission into the United States to be in the United States for a temporary period for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.