A Bible publisher protested this week that the Cuban communist regime has prevented them from distributing 17,000 copies printed for the island of the New International Version of the text, an update only legally available to Cuba since the regime lifted its ban on printing new Bibles in 2015.
Bíblica, a global ministry that helps distribute copies of the Bible where it may be less accessible, confirmed this week that the thousands of Bibles printed for Cuba returned to Miami, Florida, in 2016 remain out of the hands the believers on the Island. According to Martí Noticias, a Miami-based Cuban interests outlet, the executive director for the Latin American wing of the ministry, Esteban Fernández, confirmed this week that the government had blocked the distribution of the Bibles.
“When we sent them in 2016 … the government did not allow them to enter Cuba, so they were returned to Miami,” he said.
Fernández noted that the government’s Religious Affairs Department appears to prioritize the distribution of older translations of the Bible, which are more difficult to read for modern Spanish-speakers and may make Christianity less accessible to Cubans who grew up educated in atheist Communist Party schools. The New International Version of the Bible is a translation first released in 1999. Cuba allowed the publication and distribution of new copies of the Bible for the first time since the 1959 Communist Revolution in 2015.
“We think that we need something strong that will easily reach the hearts of the people,” Fernández reportedly told Mission Network News. He noted that understanding the earlier Spanish language is not the only challenge for Cubans educated in the communist system—even those who embrace it simply do not have enough Bibles to conduct Christian activities.
“Many in Cuba are sharing one Bible for six people, can you imagine that, how hard it is to have a Bible?” he asked. “Compare that to the United States, where every home has an average of two [copies].”
“When [Cubans] receive a Bible you can see the tears on their face, it is incredible,” he noted.
Cuba has been a majority Catholic country throughout its history. In the early days of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, however, the Marxists abolished religion, sending the most “socially dangerous” Christians—Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists—to labor camps. The Cuban regime, while open to Vatican activities that do not expressly challenge the regime, continues to repress Christians to this day, allowing the practice of the religion only if the state agency on religion can control the clergy’s message.
Under Pope Francis, the Vatican has softened its stance on the regime. Dictator Raúl Castro joked during Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to the island that he may return to the Church if the pope remains so friendly to his government. Upon his return to Rome, Pope Francis denied having witnessed the brutal arrest of a Christian dissident that was caught on video occurring directly in front of his convoy.
That year, the Cuban regime allowed the importing of Bibles to the island for the first time since it took over. Evangelical missions and Christian groups rushed to respond to demand for the texts from Cuban Christians. By 2018, however, reports surfaced that Havana had grown concerned with how rapidly Christianity was spreading.
“The continued growth of Evangelical churches irritates the government,” Pastor Mario Félix Lleonart told reporters in February. Lleonart has been repeatedly intimidated and detained by Cuban authorities for practicing his faith. The pastor was forced to flee the island. In an interview with the Pan-American Post in March, he explained, “I had to abandon my ministry, my congregation, the parishioners asked me, ‘Please save yourself, the only thing left for you here best case is prison, worst case is death.'”
“In Cuba—all of Cuba—the religious affairs office violates the religious freedom of all Cubans. … Even though some are considered legal and others illegal, all suffer religious persecution,” he emphasized.
Faith-based political dissident organizations face the most persecution. The head of the Christian Liberation Movement, a pro-democracy Christian group, was sentenced to three years in prison last year for reportedly not signing a condolence book for Raúl Castro. Eduardo Cardet is suffering from severe health issues as a result of beatings and poor treatment in prison, he family asserts.
The Ladies in White, a Catholic dissident group whose only act of protest is to march to and from Sunday Mass every week, have been barred from attending the Santa Rita church’s services in Havana for years. Last week, Palm Sunday, 36 women around the country were arrested and beaten for trying to go to church.