Cuban Christians Connect Prayers to Protests

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United more than ever across denominations, many evangelicals want “homeland and life” over “homeland or death.”

A few days after Hurricane Elsa swept across the center of Cuba, Christians of all denominations joined in a nationwide day of prayer and fasting for their country on Wednesday, July 7. The call was made after months of increasing tension on the island amid severe scarcity of food and medicine and as the number of COVID-19 infections began to rise precipitously and the once-lauded health system threatened to collapse. Church leaders of all denominations reported that they were increasingly under surveillance and had been interrogated and threatened.

Four days later, on Sunday, July 11 in a town outside Havana, people spilled into the streets and marched peacefully and enthusiastically, calling for freedom and chanting “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life,” the title of a hit song released by pro-democracy Cuban hip hop artists earlier this year and a twist on the Cuban Communist Party slogan “Homeland or Death”). They shouted in unison, “We are not afraid!” The demonstration was recorded and shared live via social media by participants and onlookers and, within hours, similar protests involving thousands of people sprang up in cities and towns across the island.

The spontaneity and magnitude of the protests, the likes of which have not been seen in Cuba since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, caught the government off guard. President Miguel Díaz-Canel went on television and made an explicit call to violence, telling the population that he was giving an order to combat and called for true revolutionaries to go into the streets and reclaim them by force. The military, police, and state security agents, both in uniform and plainclothes, flooded into the streets, beating …

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