New book: A History of Churches of Christ in Cuba

Cuba history book coverI’m pleased to announce that A History of Churches of Christ in Cuba is now available. Tony Fernández and I worked on this information over the course of several years, and it’s nice to see it in concrete form.

Any history of the churches in Cuba is going to be incomplete at this point. There are too many stories that can’t be told yet.

I’ll also mention that I made an appeal for information last year at a meeting of people who work in Cuba. Only one person sent me anything. Because of that, I’m sure that some people from here in the States will not have received the mention they would have liked to have. If so, I’ll hope they’ll send me info for the next edition!

Anyway, the book can be purchased from the Herald of Truth website. You can find it on this page: http://www.heraldoftruth.org/resources_books/a-history-of-churches-of-christ-in-cuba

The United States and Cuba

(This will be a longer post than usual. I really don’t want to spend all of Christmas week talking about this, so I’m going to put as much as I can into one post.)

In my work with Herald of Truth, I’ve made 18 trips to Cuba. I read news from and about Cuba almost every day. I make it my business to be informed on anything about Cuba that might affect our ministry there. So the announcements made last Wednesday were of profound interest to me.

In case you’ve missed it, in the first time in more than 50 years, the United States and Cuba have normalized their diplomatic relations. The United States relaxed some of the travel and business restrictions that had been imposed on U.S. citizens. For these things to come about, Cuba returned two prisoners to the United States; in turn, the United States released three Cubans that were being held on espionage charges.

All of this has been caught up in a wrapping of political discourse and misinformation. I’ll try to cut through some of this, though I recognize that it’s hard for anyone to be completely objective about a subject like this.

The prisoners released by Cuba

The most famous of the prisoners that was released was a man named Alan Gross. The other unnamed prisoner released by the Cubans was probably of more importance in the larger context of U.S.-Cuban relations (this prisoner is rumored to be Cuban Rolando Sarraff Trujillo). He was an intelligence agent who had provided information that the U.S. considered to be of great value. Because of the nature of the work he performed, his case was largely unknown and got lost in the whirlwind of talk surrounding Alan Gross.

Gross was a subcontractor for the USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development. Under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the USAID was tasked with promoting democracy in Cuba. To achieve this, they have sought to organize Cubans to destabilize the current regime. One example of USAID work in Cuba was the failed ZunZuneo network. Ars Tecnica described the program as

The program, codenamed ZunZuneo, was covertly established by US government agents. Run by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the subversion program was targeted at building a user base of young Cubans in hopes that they would use the service to voice opposition to the governing communist party.

Another controversial USAID program that recently came to light made use of health care workers from other Latin American countries. These workers traveled around Cuba holding HIV-awareness seminars, yet they were being paid to foment unrest. The Guardian described it this way:

Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.

Gross was a subcontractor for this agency that has as one of its prime aims the destabilization of the Cuban government. He was distributing unlicensed satellite communication equipment within the Jewish community in Cuba. For someone who doesn’t know much about Cuba or the USAID, it would be easy to see Gross as an innocent aid worker who was arrested for no good reason. Any public official or professional journalist that makes such a claim is trying to mislead you. While it’s open to debate whether or not Gross knew what he was involved in, it’s almost impossible that he was sent to Cuba merely for humanitarian reasons.

The prisoners released from the United States

You may not have heard of the Cuban 5. If you’ve traveled to Cuba, you probably were made aware of them. The imprisonment of these five Cubans in the United States has been an important topic within Cuba. Since most public billboards and advertising are controlled by the Cuban government, they mainly carry propaganda. I’d guess a full 10-20% of those signs in recent years have been about the Cuban 5.

These five Cuban intelligence officers were arrested in 1998. In 2001, the Cuban government admitted that they were involved in intelligence, but argued that they were spying on Cubans living in Florida, not the U.S. government.

Among other things, these men infiltrated the Brothers To The Rescue, a Cuban-American group that flew missions in international waters and in Cuban airspace, missions designed at aiding those leaving Cuba and encouraging others to act against Cuba’s government. In 1996, Cuban military jets shot down two Brothers To The Rescue planes, killing 4 U.S. citizens.

In 1997, the Cuban government turned over to the U.S. government information regarding activities of anti-Cuba activists, specifically Luis Posada Carriles. The U.S. used this information to detect the activities of the Cuban 5. They were convicted of espionage. In addition, Gerardo Hernández was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder because he provided information which helped lead to the downing of the two planes in 1996.

Both the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International have criticized the trials and sentencing of the Cuban 5. However, the Supreme Court refused to review their cases in 2009.

René González and Fernando González had already been released. The remaining three were released last week and returned to Cuba.

Rocky relations

During the 19th Century, many within the U.S. pressed for annexation of Cuba. However, in order to gain broad support for the Spanish-American War, the U.S. government committed itself to not make Cuba a part of the U.S.

The Spanish-American War was part of Cuba’s War of Independence. When the war ended, Cuba had its independence, but was occupied by U.S. troops. The U.S. occupied Cuba from 1899-1902. One of the conditions for the removal of these troops was the inclusion of the so-called Platt Amendment in the Cuban constitution. This document, passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress and signed by President McKinley, stated:

Article I. The Government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes, or otherwise, lodgment in or control over any portion of said island.

Article II. The Government of Cuba shall not assume or contract any public debt to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking-fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which, the ordinary revenues of the Island of Cuba, after defraying the current expenses of the Government, shall be inadequate.

Article III. The Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the Government of Cuba. . . .

Article V. The Government of Cuba will execute, and, as far as necessary, extend the plans already devised, or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the Southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein….

Article VI. To enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the ]?resident of the United States.

The only article still in force is Article VI. This article is the basis for the U.S. possession of the military base at Guantanamo Bay.

As allowed by the Platt Amendment, the United States intervened in Cuba numerous times in the first half of the 20th Century.  In what came to be known as the Second Occupation of Cuba, the U.S. military took control of Cuba in 1906; Charles Edward Magoon governed the island until 1909.

In 1912, the U.S. intervened due to unrest among the Afro-Cuban community.

In 1917, U.S. sugar plantation owners in Cuba requested protection against military unrest in Cuba. Troops were sent to the island from 1917-1922, in the so-called Sugar Intervention.

In 1926 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt sent 29 warships to Cuba and Key West, threatening to invade to quell a revolt. However, the only troops actually on the island were at the Guantanamo Bay base.

Following the success of the Castro revolution in 1959, the U.S. made the overthrow of this new government a high priority. Not only that, but the assassination of Castro also became a government project. The Senate Committee led by Frank Church in 1975 documented dozens of attempts; many claim that the actual number was in the hundreds. (See “10 Ways The CIA Tried To Kill Castro“)

U.S.-Cuba relations disintegrated under the Kennedy Administration: the breaking of diplomatic relations, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the embargo against Cuba, the Cuban missile crisis. Sanctions have been strengthened and lessened over the last 54 years.

Luis Posada Carriles

There’s one other player that needs to be included in all of this: Luis Posada Carriles. This former CIA operative was the mastermind behind the bombing of Cubana flight 455 that killed 73 people in 1976. He claimed responsibility for a string of bombings in Havana hotels which injured 11 and killed an Italian tourist.

Posada Carriles was jailed in Venezuela for the airline bombing, but escaped prison in 1985. In 2000, he was jailed in Panama for attempting to murder Fidel Castro. He was pardoned in 2004 and now lives in Florida.

In 1987, the Cuban government turned over 175 pages of information to the United States government to aid in the prosecution of Posada Carriles. This information led to the arrest and prosecution of the Cuban 5. The Cuban government claims that the five men arrested were working to prevent Posada Carriles and other anti-Castro activists from carrying out future acts of terrorism.

Conclusion

There aren’t many “innocents” in all of this. My interests lie with a group that I haven’t mentioned yet: the Cuban people. There are innocents that have suffered over the last half century. Whether the blame lies mostly with the Castro government or those seeking to oppose that government doesn’t really matter to me. I care about those caught in the crossfire: the elderly, the children, the poor, the starving. It’s for them that I want to see change come about. Lots of change. Change on both sides.

And I’m praying that last week’s announcements are part of that change.

Trip to Cuba: November 2014

Alain after baptismsLast week I got to go to Cuba, accompanying my wife Carolina and several others from the University Church of Christ in attending the national women’s conference in Varadero, Cuba. As always, it was a great trip.

One of the highlights happened on Sunday. The Matanzas church is very active evangelistically, so there are almost always several baptisms while we are there. I know the complications that can arise from foreigners baptizing, so I normally resist that aspect of ministry there. Knowing that they would ask me about it, I tried to be proactive and think of who I could suggest do it.

Then I remembered Alain. Alain was baptized a couple of months ago in Matanzas, though he’s from the province of Villa Clara. Tony Fernández, the preacher at the Versalles church in Matanzas, received a letter from Alain after Alain had heard some of our radio programs. Tony studied with Alain and baptized him and another man.

On the Sunday that we were there, Alain had traveled in with his wife and son. His wife wanted to be baptized. So I suggested that Alain be taught how to baptize and that he perform the baptisms. They took my suggestion, and it was a wonderful day for Alain, hopefully one that will further prepare him to lead the new church that is developing in his hometown.

2014 Cuba Youth Conference

Last week I was in Cuba with a group from the University Church of Christ in Abilene. Our church sponsored the conference, along with 3 churches in Tennessee and some other individuals. It was especially nice for me to travel with my wife, Carolina, and daughter, Andrea.

I feel like a broken record when I tell about Cuba. It was wonderful, great, exciting…. The work in Cuba continues to be one of the most encouraging works I’ve been a part of. Half a century of socialism coupled with an economic embargo imposed by the U.S. have left the island’s economy in shambles. People live constantly on the border of disaster. Yet being there makes me think of James’ words:

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5)

I’ll share some pictures from the trip:

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The ladies from our mission team

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Tony Fernandez, Herald of Truth rep in Cuba

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Tony leads singing Sunday a.m.

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One of several baptisms Sunday a.m.

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Worship at the church’s farm Sunday afternoon

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Baptism at the farm

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Youth conference

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Paul Rotenberry and Steve Austin, elders from UCC

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Some of our team with a family from the province of Las Tunas

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Andrea sharing her story with the young ladies

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Ladies sent by the Madison church in Tennessee

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Lighthouse built by the young people. Each box had a Christian virtue printed on it.

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Tony Fernández and Ammiel Pérez, two of the principal leaders in Cuba

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Alejandro Ezquerra speaks to the young people

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There were 3 baptisms the last night of the youth conference

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The church had a party for the elderly of the congregation

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Me and one of my favorite people: Pastor Cardenal. I call him “Bishop,” which always makes him laugh.

Getting Ready for Cuba

16_Ne_03_01_RGI’ll be traveling to Cuba next week with a group from the University Church of Christ in Abilene. UCC is helping sponsor the national youth conference in Cuba this year, and we’ve got 8 of us going to participate in the event.

The general theme is “Let’s Build Together,” based on the book of Nehemiah.

I got to choose my topics, so I chose three building themes, even though only one of them comes directly from Nehemiah:

  • We Are Doing A Great Work (Nehemiah 6) — I’ll use the stories of how the opposition (external and internal) tried to stymie Nehemiah’s work and how he remained focused. We’ll talk about handling criticism and focusing on building the Kingdom of God.
  • Doing The Task God Has Assigned To Us (1 Corinthians 3:5-15) — This one isn’t related to Nehemiah, but it does talk about how the church is built by different people doing different tasks in different ways. We’ll talk about jealousy, rivalries, and staying focused on the task.
  • Some Wept While Others Shouted With Joy (Ezra 3:10-13) — This is the story of the ex-exiles relaying the foundation of the temple. The older generation wept, while the younger generation shouted for joy. We’ll talk about how one generation has built something, while another generation is wanting to build. One focused on what is and was; the other focuses on what can be. Both perspectives are needed in the church.

It’s not too late. Do you have any suggestions?

Illustration courtesy of Sweet Publishing