The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion; however, the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the government’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life. Observers said the government continued to use threats, international and domestic travel restrictions, detentions, and violence against some religious leaders and their followers, and restricted the rights of prisoners to practice religion freely. Media and religious leaders said the government continued to harass or detain members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler Fernandez, Christian rights activist Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, his wife and fellow activist Ariadna Lopez Roque, and Patmos Institute regional coordinator Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso. In March the government registered the New Apostolic Church, which does not have a connection with Apostolic churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement. The ORA and MOJ, however, continued to use the law on associations to deny official registration to certain religious groups, such as a number of Apostolic churches, or failed to respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many religious groups said the lack of registration impeded their ability to practice their religion. A coalition of evangelical Protestant churches, Apostolic churches, and the Roman Catholic Church pressed for reforms in the draft constitution, including registration of religious groups, ownership of church property, and new church construction. On October 24, the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement calling for the constitution to strengthen protections for religious activities. In September Protestant groups signed a petition opposing the removal of freedom of conscience in the draft constitution and sought the reinstatement of individual and collective rights to manifest one’s religion and beliefs in private and in public. Human rights advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported government harassment of religious leaders increased “significantly in parallel with” the churches’ outspokenness regarding the draft constitution. According to CSW, some religious groups said the government increased its scrutiny of foreign religious workers’ visa applications and visits. Some religious groups reported an increase in the ability of their members to conduct charitable and educational projects. According to the religious advocacy group EchoCuba and CSW, the government gave preference to some religious groups and discriminated against others. During the year, the Sacred Heart of Jesus became the first Catholic church built since the country’s 1959 revolution. It was the first of three Catholic parishes to be completed and the first Catholic church ever located in Sandino, a remote town in the country’s westernmost province.
The Community of Sant’Egidio again held an interfaith meeting – “Bridges of Peace” – in Havana on October 12-14 to promote interreligious engagement, tolerance, and joint efforts towards peace. Leaders of different religious groups in the country and participants from 25 countries attended the meeting.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet with government officials and raise concerns about unregistered churches’ inability to achieve legal registration and gain the official status it conveys. The embassy met regularly with Catholic Church authorities, evangelical Protestants, and Jewish community representatives concerning the state of religious, economic, and political activities. Embassy officials also met with representatives from Muslim, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and various Protestant communities. Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches (CCC), a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs. The embassy remained in close contact with religious groups, including facilitating exchanges between visiting religious delegations and religious groups in the country. In social media and other public statements, the U.S. government continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.