Date: November 26, 2016
‘Comrade Fidel’ led a crackdown on the Church for much of that time
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service, who is banned from visiting Cuba for his reporting activities
Fidel Castro with Cuban flagHAVANA, CUBA (ANS – November 26, 2016) -- Former Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to an improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 US presidents during his almost half-a-century rule, died on Friday, November 25, 2016, at the age 90, in Havana.
His younger brother, Raul, who had succeeded him in 2006 as President of Cuba, announced his death late on Friday on state television.
Castro came to power in 1959 and ushered in a Communist revolution. He defied the US for decades, surviving many assassination plots.
The BBC reported that supporters had claimed that he had “returned Cuba to the people,” but his many critics called him a “dictator.”
The country Fidel Castro called the “most advanced in the world” had, in fact, returned to the age of ox-drawn carts.
By the mid-1990s, many Cubans had had enough. If earlier waves of exiles had been as much about politics as economics, thousands were now taking to the sea in a waterborne exodus to Florida and the dream of a better life. Many drowned, but it was a crushing vote of no-confidence in Castro.
Pope John Paul II with Fidel Castro useThe BBC stated that in later years, Castro seemed to have mellowed, and it began in 1998 which saw a ground-breaking visit by Pope John Paul II, something which would have been unthinkable even five years earlier.
The then Pope condemned Cuba for its human rights abuses, embarrassing Castro in front of the world’s media.
“Fidel Castro had created his own unique brand of Caribbean communism which, in his last years, he was forced to adapt, slowly introducing a few free-market reforms to save his revolution,” said the BBC.
On July 31, 2006, just days before his 80th birthday, Castro handed over power temporarily to Raul after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery.
His health continued to deteriorate. Early in 2008, Castro announced that he would not accept the positions of president and commander-in chief at the next meeting of the National Assembly.
In a letter published in an official communist newspaper, he was quoted as saying: “It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer.”
He largely withdrew from public life, writing articles published in the state media under the title “Reflections of Comrade Fidel.”
He re-emerged in July 2010, he made his first public appearance since falling ill, greeting workers and giving a television interview in which he discussed US tensions with Iran and North Korea.
The following month Castro gave his first speech to the National Assembly in four years, urging the US not to take military action against Iran or North Korea and warning of a nuclear holocaust if tensions increased.
When asked whether Castro may be re-entering government, culture minister Abel Prieto told the BBC: “I think that he has always been in Cuba's political life but he is not in the government. He has been very careful about that. His big battle is international affairs.”
Fidel with Che Guevara usePresident Obama's announcement in December 2014 of the beginning of an end to US trade and other sanctions saw the beginning of a thaw in what had been half a century of hostile relations between the two countries.
Castro welcomed the move stating it was it was “a positive move for establishing peace in the region”, but that he mistrusted the US government.
Why I am banned from Cuba:
I have visited the Caribbean nation on three occasions, and was banned from ever returning some years ago, because of my reporting activities there.
I learned of the ban, when a friend was pulled in by the Cuban secret police, who then proceeded to produce my business card, and asked him if he knew me. When he nodded, one of the secret police officers said, “Please tell Dan Wooding that he is not welcome back here, and if he ever tries to re-enter our country, he will be arrested and immediately put in jail.”
I guess that was a badge of honor, as my writing about the persecution of Christians there had obviously got under their skin.
My first trip to Cuba:
On my first visit trip to Cuba in 1982, I was still living in England, and had joined a team of Bible smugglers in Miami to take in Bibles to the country, via Havana’s José Martí International Airport. After some serious prayer on the flight, we were not discovered. When we later delivered our many Bibles to a church in the capital, we walked into its lobby, and a little old man came running towards me, pointed a finger at my face, and said, “You’re the one!” When I asked him what he meant, he replied, “Last night I had a dream and, in it, I saw all of you, but I especially saw you and the Lord told me that you would pray for me and bring me some encouragement.”
The man stood about five feet tall, the same height as my father, Alfred Wooding, and I put my arm around his shoulder and began to pray for him, and the whole time he sobbed. So, at the end of my prayer, I asked him why he was so upset. He wiped away his tears, and told me, “I am not upset. These are tears of joy. You are the first person in the whole my lifetime to come from England to bring Bibles to us. Thank you for caring.”
During our time in Cuba, we noticed that Castro had established in every neighborhood, a house with the sign, “CDR,” on it, which meant “the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.” Each home was part of Fidel’s “Revolutionary Collective Surveillance,” containing neighborhood spies who created social violence and hatred.
Norma and Dan Wooding with church in CubaOne Cuban pastor I spoke with said that at every church service, a “CDR” spy would sit on the front row with a notebook in his hand and jot down what the pastor had said, just in case he criticized the communist government.
Paranoia was everywhere at that time, and during a conversation with a group of Cuban pastors, who had all spent time in prison, they described in graphic terms how they were tortured during their imprisonment.
Then, one of them decided to tell a well-known joke in the country. “There was a cat in a room, and then the authorities opened the door and threw in a rat,” he began. “Then, after a while, they opened the door and saw that the rat was dead and the cat had a huge smile on his face.” He paused and then added, “So they question is: Who killed the rat?” Before I could answer, he laughed and said, “The CIA. They think the CIA is responsible for everything in this country.”
On my final visit to Cuba, this time with my wife Norma, we visited many Cuban churches, mainly because we had set up through ASSIST, a Sister Church program, whereby we linked Cuban congregations with churches in the United States.
It was a moving time for us, as we marveled at the courage of these believers, and later, several US churches send delegations over to Cuba to visit and encourage their Sister Church.
Fidel Castro’s religious beliefs and actions:
According to Wikipedia, Fidel Castro was baptized and raised a Roman Catholic as a child, but did not practice as one. In Oliver Stone’s documentary “Comandante,” Castro states “I have never been a believer, and have total conviction that there is only one life.”
Pope John XXIII excommunicated Castro in 1962 after he had suppressed Catholic institutions in Cuba. Castro has publicly criticized what he sees as elements of the Bible that have been used to justify the oppression of both women and people of African descent throughout history.
However, in 1992, Castro agreed to loosen restrictions on religion and even permitted church-going Catholics to join the Communist Party of Cuba. Of course, not many took him up on his offer. He began describing his country as “secular” rather than “atheist.” In December 1998, Castro formally re-instated Christmas Day as the official celebration for the first time since its abolition by the Communist Party in 1969. Cubans were again allowed to mark Christmas as a holiday and to openly hold religious processions. The Pope sent a telegram to Castro thanking him for restoring Christmas as a public holiday.
Castro even attended a Roman Catholic convent blessing in 2003. The purpose of this unprecedented event was to help bless the newly restored convent in Old Havana and to mark the fifth anniversary of the Pope’s visit to Cuba.
The senior spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian faith arrived in Cuba in 2004, the first time any Orthodox Patriarch has visited Latin America in the Church's history: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1 consecrated a cathedral in Havana and bestowed an honor on Fidel Castro. His aides said that he was responding to the decision of the Cuban Government to build and donate to the Orthodox Christians a tiny Orthodox cathedral in the heart of old Havana.
Fidel with Saddam Hussein and RaulAfter Pope John Paul II’s death in April 2005, an emotional Castro attended a mass in his honor in Havana's cathedral and signed the Pope’s condolence book at the Vatican Embassy. He had last visited the cathedral in 1959, 46 years earlier, for the wedding of one of his sisters. Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino led the mass and welcomed Castro, who was dressed in a black suit, expressing his gratitude for the “heartfelt way to the death of our Holy Father John Paul II was received (in Cuba).”
In his 2009 spoken autobiography, Castro said that Christianity exhibited “a group of very humane precepts” which gave the world “ethical values” and a “sense of social justice”, before relating that “If people call me Christian, not from the standpoint of religion, but from the standpoint of social vision, I declare that I am a Christian.”
Now Castro, who reigned over the island-nation 90 miles from Florida that was marked by the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, has gone.
The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother, Raul, but many wonder if the persecution of Christians will now slow down.
My view is: Don’t hold your breath!
Photo captions: 1) Defiant to the end. Fidel Castro with a Cuban flag. 2) Pope John Paul II with Fidel. (Paul Hanna / AFP - Getty Images file). 3) Revolutionaries: Fidel Castro of Cuba with Argentine guerrilla leader Che Guevara. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images). 4) Norma and Dan Wooding visiting a Cuban church. 5) Fidel and Raul Castro with Saddam Hussein in Havana. 6) Dan Wooding hosting a TV program.
Dan Wooding on His ChannelAbout the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of some 45 books and has two TV programs and one radio show in Southern California. Besides being banned from Cuba, he has been imprisoned in his native Nigeria, and has also survived a car bombing in El Salvador.