Experts: Religious Freedom Under Attack in Cuba, Mexico, Colombia

By Zachary Leshin | September 22, 2015 | 1:04pm EDT
Pope Francis talks with a group of children in the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, in El Cobre, Cuba on Sept. 21, 2015. (AP photo)

( -– The governments of Cuba, Mexico and Colombia are among the worst violators of religious freedom in Latin America, experts told the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere at a hearing Thursday.

“Is there any particular place in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere where it's more egregious, the interference of religious freedom?” asked Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY).

“Our three priority countries and the countries we consider to be the worst at the moment are Cuba, Mexico, and Colombia,” Anna-Lee Stangl, the senior advocacy officer for the Americas of Christian Solidarity Worldwide–UK replied.

“What's the balance there between criminal element violence and government-sponsored violence across the region?” subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) asked her. “Is it more government sponsored? Or is it more criminal elements?”

“In Cuba, you see kind of government paramilitary groups that come in, in plain clothes, pretending to be civilians who also attack Ladies in White and try and prevent them from attending Mass, and that’s definitely, although they're not wearing government uniforms, a government-orchestrated campaign of violence,” Stangl replied.

“In Mexico on the very local level, in certain regions there's a campaign of violence carried out by local officials. Not top governmental officials, but local, maybe a mayor, a local town council,” Stangl said.

“What countries lead in the realm of religious freedom? We know the bad actors, right? So we talk about Cuba. We can talk about Nicaragua. Who are some of the good actors?” Duncan asked.

“Chile is very strong… for all religions,” responded Ricardo Luna, global vice president of Confraternidad Evangélica Latina. “Brazil has had a strong tradition of religious respect.”

“There has just been an effort to submit for consideration a new bill on religious freedom in Brazil. They already had a very good framework, but they wanted to make sure it was the best it could be. And they want it to be the model for the rest of Latin America,” Stangl added.

“Do any of you think that economic pressure will help the governments realize that they have to do something about the oppression of religious freedom in their countries?” asked Donovan.

“We would strongly advise against the imposition of sanctions or economic pressures," replied Richard Coll, a foreign policy advisor for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We believe that proper economic development, integral economic development is the path forward for these countries. And to impose sanctions on them that would cripple them in the development of their economies would be counterproductive and we think lead to worsening conditions,” Coll said.

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