By Worthy News Staff
HAVANA, CUBA (Worthy News)-- Two Cuban Baptist leaders are detained in Cuba on charges of “illicit financial activity," after distributing financial aid from American Christians to needy churches in the island's Guantanamo province, an international advocacy group said Monday, October 19.
Britain-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said Pastor Ruben Ortiz Columbie and Pastor Francisco Garcia Ruiz were detained October 3 and have been held in prison since then. Both men had been distributing aid from Baptist churches located in the U.S. State of Florida before they were captured by security forces, Christians said.
"Church leaders have been prevented from visiting the men and their families have only been allowed to see them once, for twenty minutes, on Friday, October 16," CSW told Worthy News.
The pastors are are leaders in the Eastern Baptist Convention, one of the largest denominations on the Communist-run island.
Denominational leaders have reportedly said they are "shocked and puzzled" by the detention of the two men, “as the Church has been carrying out this type of aid work for years, particularly over the last year, since Cuba was hit by three major hurricanes.”
Pastor Ortiz Columbie, 68, is a Professor of Economics at the Santiago Baptist Seminary and leads the denomination’s “Special Projects” department, CSW said. CSW quoted sources within the church as saying that this work may be behind the two men’s arrest.
Pastor Garcia Perez, 46, is director of the denomination’s youth ministries, Christians said. "We demand that the Cuban Government release Pastor Ortiz Columbie and Pastor Garcia Ruiz immediately," said CSW's Advocacy Director Tina Lambert. "These two men were working openly to improve the lives of fellow Cubans living in poverty."
Lambert said CSW has urged the international community to pressure the Cuban government to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Cultural, Economic, and Social Rights, which it signed in 2008.
Since Raul Castro came to power in early 2008, pressure has increased on churches, according to Cuban Christians and rights groups.
The European Union and the United States have pressured Cuba to allow more religious and political reforms on the islands, where besides Christians, political dissidents have been detained, in some cases for many years. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).