Episcopal Church voices support for Cubans taking to the streets in rare anti-government protests

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Jul 14, 2021

People shout anti-government slogans during a July 11 protest in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Alexandre Meneghini/REUTERS

[Episcopal News Service] Earlier this week in response to rare anti-government street protests across Cuba, the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio called Cubans to “Paz y Vida,” or “Peace and Life.”

“Expressing concern and frustration is the right of every citizen and every people. The right to freedom of expression in peaceful public demonstrations is a human right,” Delgado, who has served as bishop of Cuba since 2010, said in a July 12 letter.

The church, Delgado said, is concerned with the lack of space for people to voice their civic concerns. “As long as people manifest themselves in a peaceful and respectful framework, they should be allowed to do so,” she said.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio leads the recessional following the Feb. 28, 2019, Eucharist opening the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Crowds of protesters took to the streets across the Caribbean island nation on July 11 denouncing the government for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, food and medicine shortages, long lines, price hikes and an ever-worsening economy. They shouted, “Libertad,” in a call to freedom, and “Patria y Vida,” a play on the Communist government’s slogan, “Patria o Muerte,” “Fatherland or Death,” according to news reports.

The long-deteriorating economic situation and food and medicine shortages preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made the situation worse. Cuba is reporting more than 5,300 daily infections, the highest since the start of the pandemic. New government-enacted economic policies implemented earlier this year also have exacerbated the situation.

“Uncertainty, frustration, burden, and despair have been generated by the constant lack of basic food products and medicines — among other misfortunes. All of us are experiencing increased emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual deterioration. The average wage has been dramatically devalued, while the most important products are offered only in new stores for foreign currencies. Power plants have been put out of operation due to various mechanical failures resulting in power outages, which added to the concern of the population in the middle of summer,” Delgado said, as she called for dialogue to address people’s urgent needs.

“The church urges that reason, sanity, and responsibility prevail. That path must be chosen by all Cubans. There will always be divergences, diverse opinions, different thoughts — that is the richness and integrality of being a people. The value of dialogue must be raised in order to seek understanding and ways to resolve this situation,” she said.

Anti-government protests are uncommon in Cuba, where its authoritarian regime retains tight control over society and the media. International news outlets worldwide, including the New York Times, characterized the July 11 protests as “a remarkable eruption of discontent not seen in nearly 30 years.”

“The church in Cuba has stood with the people and continues to stand with the people,” the Rev. Glenda McQueen, The Episcopal Church’s partnership officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Episcopal News Service. To know that the church stands with the people and that Episcopalians from around the world are praying for the Cuban people, “gives them a sense of hope, hope that is needed in this difficult time.”

In a July 13 letter to his diocese, Western North Carolina Bishop José McLoughlin, whose mother fled Cuba in 1961, addressed the situation.

“At present, Cuba is experiencing its most significant protests since the early 1990s. Aggravated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, many protesters, frustrated by the country’s struggle to combat the coronavirus and resulting poor conditions for many residents, are calling for the resignation of current President Miguel Diaz-Canel. Facing a lack of access to food and other necessary supplies, lack of communication and deadly violence plaguing the streets, most people fear for their wellbeing,” McLoughlin wrote.

“My family and so many Cubans have suffered deeply as a part of this six-decade-old regime, a situation only complicated by the pandemic and the economic collapse brought on by the government’s changing of the nation’s monetary system,” said the bishop, who still has family in Cuba and whose diocese has a companion relationship with the Diocese of Cuba. “What many of you are seeing in the news I have received as firsthand reports from my family and that of our sister, the bishop of Cuba, the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio.”

On Jan. 1, the Cuban government ended its dual currency, devaluing the Cuban peso and phasing out the CUC or “Cuban convertible peso,” which was tied 1-to-1 with the U.S. dollar. The devaluation of the peso and the discontinuation of the convertible peso have led prices on basic goods, which are already scarce, to increase anywhere from 500% to 900%.

“What we are witnessing is something we have not seen in decades: people taking to the streets of Cuba. As I hear from my family and from Bishop Griselda, the situation is in fact dire. There is deep suffering among the people of Cuba,” McLoughlin said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also voiced his support.

“I stand in solidarity with you during this time of sickness, food insecurity, economic suffering and civil unrest. I am praying for you, and I stand for the human rights of all peaceful protesters,” said Curry on July 13 in pastoral word addressed to Delgado and the Episcopalians in the Diocese of Cuba.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches and Luz Dinorah Padro, the church’s manager for language services, interprets March 6, 2020, during a Eucharist celebrating the Diocese of Cuba’s readmission into The Episcopal Church at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“When I saw you early in March of 2020, I said then, and I mean now: ‘We love Cuba and all her people.’ In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that in the Body of Christ, ‘When one member suffers, all suffer together with it,’ and we share in your pain with the loss of lives due to the pandemic,” the presiding bishop said.

The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in Cuba celebrated the readmission of the Diocese of Cuba after more than a half-century separation in March 2020, a week before the coronavirus pandemic led to worldwide lockdowns. Curry preached at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana during a March 6 Eucharist.

The Cuban church traces its origins back to an Anglican presence that began on the island in 1871. In 1901, it became a missionary district of The Episcopal Church. The two churches separated in the 1960s after Fidel Castro seized power following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and diplomatic relations between the two countries disintegrated. The Episcopal Church in Cuba functioned as an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba following the separation, though the two churches maintained limited connections through diocesan and other partnerships.

The Episcopal Church has called for an end to the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba.

– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service.