DIARIO LAS AMERICAS, May 17, 2017

Protest at the Cuban embassy in Washington demands the release of a jailed pastor and his wife.

17 May 2017

By LUIS LEONEL LEÓN

Ramon Rigal, pastor of the God in Christ Church in Guantanamo, Cuba, and his wife Adya were arrested Feb. 21 because they home school their children and disagree with the island's educational system.

They were each sentenced to one year in prison, the father in a forced labor center and the mother in home detention. They have filed court appeals.

@LuisLeonelLeon / llleon@diariolasamericas.com

“I never wanted to be a communist. Neither did the children who now go to church, nor many of the kids who don't go to church,” Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart told Diario Las Americas Wednesdayafter a protest in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington to demand freedom for the Rigals, sentenced to prison for homeschooling their children.

“The ideological manipulation the regime imposes on Cuban children is atrocious, criminal. And anyone who dares to speak against that doctrine faces a fierce reprimand from the dictatorship,” Lleonart added.

“I was very emotional this afternoon because I could never do something like this in Cuba, and especially because I did it as a pastor in a terrible situation,” said Lleonart, who left Cuba recently and now lives in the United States. For the pastor, his first experiences with revolutionary indoctrination came through education and culture.

“I was forced to go to school as part of an educational system that taught me things that had absolutely nothing to do with my interests, my way of thinking or my beliefs,” the pastor said. “In Cuba, children are continuously forced to repeat deadly slogans and classes are interrupted for political activities by the Communist Party and the Union of Young Communists.”

“It is criminal that children are forced to chant horrendous slogans like 'pioneers of communism,' or 'we will be like Che' or 'fatherland or death' or 'commander in chief, at your orders,' as they raise their hands in a salute that recalls Hitler's hordes,” he added.

 

THE RIGAL CASE

Ramon Rigal, pastor of the God in Christ Church in Guantanamo, and his wife Adya were arrested Feb. 21 because they home school their children, a normal practice in many countries.

Two months later, they were put on trial in a legal process that several organizations have described as lacking adequate guarantees and dominated by politics.

Before the trial, the parents had told Education Ministry officials that they wanted to home school their children because in public schools they faced threats and ideologies that went against the family's beliefs and values.

Rigal said that when he tried to defend his position at the trial, the prosecutor ordered him to be quiet. “Shut up or I'll expel you from the courtroom,” the prosecutor said, adding that homeschooling “is not allowed in Cuba because it is based on capitalism” and that only teachers are trained “to transmit socialist values.”

“Dialogue with these people is impossible,” Rigal wrote in an email to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in Virginia. “They don't even care if they violate the law. They want to impose their will. They show one face to the world, but the hard truth is something else.”

The parents were each sentenced to one year in prison, the father in a forced labor center and the mother in home detention. The couple has filed an appeal. 

 

THE PROTEST

Organizations like the HSLDA, CitizenGo, the Hispanic Leadership Fund, Concerned Women for America, the Center for a Free Cuba and others joined the protest in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington.

Michael Donnelly, HSLDA global outreach director, said the protest also was designed to urge the U.S. government to consider the Rigal and similar cases when it makes decisions on bilateral relations with Havana.

Donnelly tried to submit a petition for the Rigals' release signed by more than 30,000 people, but embassy personnel who came to the locked door refused to receive it. Donnelly said he was certain the petition will reach Cuban officials “with the help of God.”

MORE IDEOLOGY, LESS KNOWLEDGE

“In the system imposed by the revolution, the subject areas take a back seat while politics are fundamental. Communist ideology counts for more than knowledge,” said Lleonart. “It's all a big show. The sentences they use in Spanish classes, for example, are all about Fidel Castro, about everything they want people to think.”

Lleonart, who writes the blog www.cubanoconfesante.com added that the regime's education system is only interested in “maintaining the indoctrination and psychological repression from the earliest ages.”

“Luckily, there are times when their tactics fail them. I remember one young man – he was in the United States recently and was just expelled from the university – who was in high school when he was forced to join an event against the Ladies in White,” Lleonart added.

“Suddenly, in the middle of that cruel event, he turned on the people responsible for the repression, and he did not scream or do anything against those valiant women who only want liberty and democracy,” the pastor said. “This protest today is very important, and it's been a privilege for me to participate and speak for those in Cuba who are not allowed to speak.”

During the protest, transmitted on Facebook Live, Lleonart led a prayer and told the audience that the Rigal family “feels less alone today because of the solidarity of the men, women and children, Americans and Cubans, here with us. The Rigal family has never been alone because Our Lord Jesus Christ has always been at their side.”

A RIGHT

“Education at home is a fundamental right protected in our constitution and all of the main human rights treaties,” Donnelly has said, adding that Cuba “is part of those treaties and must be held accountable for violating the rights of the Rigal family.”

“People in the United States are worried about what's happening to people in Cuba,” said Donnelly, who helped to organize the protest. “If Cuba is going to have normal relations with the United States, then the Cuban government should know that home schooling should be allowed.”

One of the protesters, Center for a Free Cuba director Frank Calzon, told Diario Las Americas that the event “aside from defending the right of parents to educate their children at home if that's what they want, was organized to ask (Cuban ruler Raul) Castro to suspend the sentences and allow this Christian family, sentenced in a court that offered no guarantees, to leave the country.”

Calzon, a fervent human rights activist whose non-profit organization is based in Washington, also criticized the dominant role of ideology in the Cuban education system.

“Listen to this question: If 84 U.S. Marines invade Cuban beaches and 67 are knocked down by the glorious soldiers of our Armed Forces, how many Marines are left? A Cuban family that went into exile told me recently their daughter had that question in a math class,” Calzon said. “The things that happen in education in Cuba are sometimes unimaginable for the outside world, including Americans.”


A REBIRTH OF SORTS

Calzon also condemned the Cuban government's constant propaganda aimed at Cubans as well as foreigners, including groups of U.S. students who regularly travel to the island as part of the programs allowed by former President Barack Obama.

“Some of those groups have met with Joanne Chesimard, a 65-year old woman and U.S. fugitive who escaped to Cuba after she assassinated a New Jersey policeman in cold blood in 1973,” Calzon said. Chesimard was a member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army. She's been living in Cuba for more than 40 years.

“In Havana, she is introduced to these young people as a hero who tells them that the revolution is marvelous and that she is an exile – when she's in fact a terrorist,” he added.

“But now, indirectly, as a consequence of all the attention that Obama's new policies have focused on Cuba, even some friends of the Castro regime and many other Americans are not looking at Cuba any more with eyes fascinated by Obama's tales … and are asking themselves what's really happening in Cuba,” Calzon said.

“I sense a kind of rebirth that makes people ask themselves how is it possible that a pastor is sent to prion because he does not want his children to go to a school indoctrinated by communism,” Calzon said. “And that's something the regime really dislikes.”