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Top Cuban Diplomat Says Religious Freedom Improving in Cuba

L to R: Dr. Fernando Remirez, Dr. John Graz, Mr.Jose Luis Noa Monteiro, Dr. Bert Beach, Dr. Allan Handysides

March 12, 2001. Silver Spring, Maryland, USA [IRLA News]

The highest-ranking Cuban diplomat in the United States, Dr. Fernando Remirez, pointed to improvements in religious freedom in Cuba during a visit today to the headquarters of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Asked about the current situation and the official position regarding religion, and freedom of belief and worship in particular, Remirez pointed to a growing religious interest in Cuba.

"We believe in the separation of church and state," he commented. "We believe in freedom of religion and worship for every citizen. So we are trying to do our best in that direction, and have made much improvement in the past few years. There is a growth in interest in religion in Cuba in recent times, and political developments reflect this."

Remirez also said that there had been a number of important developments that had improved the situation.

"For example, at the beginning of the 1990's, we amended the Constitution. It could have had the interpretation that it promoted an atheist state. Now it is clear that Cuba is a secular state. Also in the previous Communist Party Congress before the most recent, the Articles were changed to allow religious membership as well as party membership."

Asked about the increasing interest in religion in Cuba, Remirez noted that "Most of the growth in religious groups has been in the Protestant churches."

Religious groups are required to register with the Office of Religious Affairs. This Office "is to help, not to regulate churches," Remirez explained. "Especially with local authorities, the Office seeks to establish a general standard throughout the country, and to avoid the local interpretation of laws. We wish to give every church the same rights, to promote equality between religions and to avoid discrimination."

In conclusion Remirez commented that "It is not a perfect situation, but it is improving." Remirez is officially Counselor of the Cuban Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy since the US and Cuba do not have official diplomatic relations.

Commenting on Dr. Remirez' remarks, Dr. John Graz, IRLA secretary general said that they provided encouragement for the development of wider religious freedom and expression in Cuba.

"We trust that in the fullest way possible religious freedom will be promoted in Cuba according to accepted international norms, and that the progress noted by Dr. Remirez will continue. We at IRLA are committed to upholding religious freedom as a fundamental human right for all, and look to further advances in this vital area." [Jonathan Gallagher]