HAVANA (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Foundation for Panamerican Democracy, a nonprofit charitable organization that distributes aid in Cuba, has joined human rights icon Rosa María Payá and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in calling on the communist government of Cuba to release humanitarian aid that churches in the United States have sent to churches on the island.
In addition, the nonprofit has sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to support the release of the aid, which comes during a humanitarian crisis in Cuba. The letter is signed by more than 30 churches, civic organizations and activists based in Cuba and the United States.
The letter said that the Solidarity between Brothers program collected thousands of pounds of shelf-stable food, feminine hygiene, soap and other necessities that were intended for distribution among some 15,000 Cuban families that had managed to register for assistance on the charity's website, despite interference by the communist government.
"This assistance has been arbitrarily detained by Cuban authorities upon its arrival on the island," the letter read.
"Cuba is in crisis. The one-party communist regime that exercises centralized control over all aspects of Cuban society has caused a grave humanitarian crisis, while increasing political repression," the letter declared.
Every day, due to the shortage of foods and basic necessities, Cubans have to stand in long lines that become massive crowds just to obtain the few goods that the government markets offer, thereby making it almost impossible to comply with the most elemental measures to protect themselves from coronavirus. To make matters worse, the Cuban government is selling some basic commodities exclusively in dollars, making them inaccessible to most Cuban families because all salaries are paid in national currency.
The letter, which was signed by activists Frank Calzon, Dr. Omar Vento, Rosa María Payá, and Victor Pujals, as well as Mayor Suarez and representatives of various civic organizations and pastors of evangelical Christian and other faith communities, asked the members of the U.S. Congress to insist that Cuba release the aid immediately.
The letter reminded Congress that some 25 Democrats of the House and Senate, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine, had written a letter in May calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ensure that humanitarian aid is reaching Cuba.
Already impoverished by a communist system that has enriched the Castro family and kept security forces in place, Cubans are now facing even greater shortages of necessities. Some have taken the risk of going on social media to complain about hunger and shortages.
The Council of Cuban Churches, a group of evangelical Christian communities that has received approval from the communist government, has issued a statement claiming that the humanitarian aid is being motivated by "false interests" manipulated by President Trump's allies.
Rosa María Payá is the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, a faithful Catholic and bold defender of human rights. Despite the Cuban dictatorship's insistence that his 2012 death was his driver's fault, witnesses assert that they were rear-ended by another vehicle. Two other Cuban human rights advocates who were with Payá in the collision died later, also under suspicious circumstances. Many Cubans have concluded that the human rights activist was murdered at the behest of the communists. Thousands of Cubans turned out for his funeral.
Oswaldo Payá was persecuted for decades by Cuba's totalitarian government, initially for refusing to join the Communist League after the 1959 revolution. Sentenced to three years at hard labor, he provided spiritual direction and food to the poor at a church closed by the regime there.
When offered an opportunity to leave Cuba forever in 1980, he chose to stay in order to effect change. In 1988, Payá founded the Christian Liberation Movement (in Spanish: Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación) to promote reform. As a leading member of the resistance, he led the Varela Project (named for a patriotic priest) to reform the Cuban constitution by ending end one-party rule and allowing private business ownership. Cuban President Fidel Castro dubbed the effort a conspiracy backed by the United States to overthrow his regime.
Daughter Rosa Maria Payá now resides in the United States but has traveled frequently to Cuba. In 2016, she addressed the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, where she accused the Castro family of fostering "a fake transition not to democracy, but to legitimize their total control upon Cuban society, with a renewed image for the international public opinion, in order to attract foreign investors and financial credits."
This will lead, she said, to "dynastic State capitalism" or "Castro capitalism." That year, she turned over a petition signed by 10,000 Cubans asking for a plebiscite on freedom. In 2017, she asked President Trump to "press firmly on the Cuban government to respond to the claims of its people for the first time in 60 years." She is one of the most influential women of the Americas.
In 2018, Vice President Mike Pence paid tribute to her during a swing through Latin America. He affirmed that the Trump administration is reversing the pro-socialist policy pursued by the previous administration, saying:
I'm greatly inspired by your courage and by your leadership that's inspiring people across Cuba, Cubans across America and across the wider world. And Rosa makes such an important point, that as we look across this hemisphere of freedom, and we see the collapse and the dictatorship in Venezuela ... the malign influence of decades of dictatorship and repression in Cuba has driven and expanded.
Paya released a video that announced the arrival of the humanitarian aid sent by Christians to their fellows on the island. She called on the customs authorities of the totalitarian state to release the assistance. Earlier, on social media, she released another video in which she told the public and journalists that she must be careful not to release the names of her collaborators in the United States or Cuba because of the repressive nature of the Cuban government.
In an interview with Church Militant, Cuban émigré and evangelical Christian pastor Félix Lleonart said that the Cuban government would rather see people starve than release the aid that his sister churches have collected.
"It's a totalitarian system that will not allow free speech, elections nor equality before the law," he said. "On top of that, it won't allow Cubans living outside of Cuba to give aid directly to Cubans living on the island. It wants to control everything, even the churches."
Lleonart was persecuted and imprisoned for his faith by the Cuban government, eventually emigrating to the United States.
Cuba has stepped up its persecution of Catholics and other Christians and believers who do not conform to the communist regime.
For example, Pastor Lleonart was once imprisoned because of his active evangelization. Recently, singer Danay Suárez was charged with a hate crime after allegedly defaming LGBTQ activists on the island. An award-winning rap artist and born-again Christian, Suárez has gained a following in her native country, as well as in Europe and Latin America. According to Lleonart, she merited an accusation of homophobia and possible fine, imprisonment or worse because the lyrics of one of her songs was understood to be directed at Cuba's totalitarian government.
"Faithful Christians," he said, "are especially hated by the communists."