ON-Lion Letter

"This year marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s current government and July 26 commemorated the 61st anniversary of the revolution which swept it into power," begins a late-July Miami Herald op-ed by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) chair Katrina Lantos Swett and Bradley Prize recipient Mary Ann Glendon, a USCIRF commissioner.  "After coming to power, the Castro government broke its pro-democracy pledges and, despite recent improvements, maintains a problematic record on human rights, including religious freedom.

"Religious freedom and other rights are spelled out in international documents -- including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) -- which most nations, including Cuba, endorsed," according to Swett and Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard.  "It was a Cuban diplomat, Guy Perez-Cisneros, who together with other Latin Americans helped drive its drafting and passage.  Thus, whenever Havana violates human rights, it betrays not only its past promises, but Cuba’s legacy of liberty. The world should affirm this legacy by standing steadfastly for Cuban religious freedom and related rights."

Cuba "controls and monitors religious activities and requires an invasive registration process," they continue, asking "What happens when a religious community refuses to register?  It cannot receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved places of worship, or apply for travel abroad for religious purposes."

And "What happens when it agrees to register?  Local communist officials must approve its activities and the government interferes with its leadership and internal affairs.  Havana often seeks to change church structure, freeze church assets, close churches, and intimidate pastors of churches such as the Western Baptist Convention."

While there have been some recent improvements in the situation, Swett and Glendon write, the question remains whether [Cuba] still views religious practices as privileges to be granted or withheld, rather than inherent rights to be affirmed or protected.  At stake is the legacy of an entire generation, led by Guy Perez-Cisneros, who helped bring the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"It is time to honor this great gift that Cubans helped bestow on humanity," they conclude.  "While people disagree on how to deal with Cuba on various fronts, including the U.S. embargo, all should agree that the United States must press Havana to cease interfering with religious activities; allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally; refrain from mistreating human rights activists and blocking them from attending churches; and cease arresting and harassing religious leaders.

"USCIRF would also welcome Cuba’s allowing its members a visit.  Other countries, including Latin American and European nations, should weave human rights, including religious freedom, into discussions with Cuba.  Cuba once stood for the world’s freedom; the world should do likewise for Cubans."

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