In Cuba, a New Religious Group is Born Outside the Grasp of State Control

Jonniel Riverol on the right with the orange shirt, with other members of the Free Yoruba Association of Cuba

A number of practitioners of the afro-Cuban Yoruba religion in Placetas, Cuba have decided to create their own religious group, independent from the control of the Cuban totalitarian system which presides over all sectors of day-to-day society.  Jonniel Rodriguez Riverol, a Yoruba priest, announced this past Wednesday 29th of February that “a group of Cuban santeros, practitioners of the Yoruba religion, have created the Free Yoruba Association of Cuba with the purpose of practicing our religious beliefs outside the state control which all believers of this African faith are subjected to in this country“.  Rodriguez Riverol is the president of the newly founded organization.

The official launch of the group took place in the home of Donaida Perez Paseiros (dissident and human rights activist) and Loreto Hernandez Garcia (Yoruba priest and vice-president of the Association).  According to declarations made by Riverol, a number of neighbors were invited to take part in the event, where they prayed “for the life of the political prisoner currently on hunger strike, Andy Frometa Cuenca, and for the end of violence and repression in Cuba“.

Jonniel Rodriguez Riverol has been a Yoruba priest since 1992 and decided, along with other Cuban santeros, to create the Free Yoruba Association of Cuba with the intent of “breaking away from the control which the government exerts over all religions in Cuba”.  As a goal, the members of this group wish to practice their religion “completely independent from the control and supervision of the state organisms which has traditionally occurred on the island for the past century and a half“.

In Cuba, the Castro dictatorship does not only oppress dissident groups made up of human rights activist who demand freedom out in public, but they also maintain a strong vigilance over all religious groups, which is evident by the existence of the Office for Religious Affairs, a department of the Communist Party put in place to preside over religious events throughout the island.  In fact, it has even been reported in the past that the regime has infiltrated religious groups as much as they have infiltrated public opposition groups.

Jonniel Riverol established that the Association is “not a political organization, nor is it identified by political or philosophical ideas.  With that said, the character of the group and the activities we carry out will have a completely religious focus, which will be in total correspondence with the pretexts and postulates of our ancestral religion“.  He added that the Association will not hesitate to democratically debate with Yorubas who are associated with the state “to share with them our points of view on the subject of religion, or any other topic“.

The Free Yoruba Association of Cuba will be affiliated with the Central Opposition Coalition and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, according to Riverol.  “These non-violent organizations will respect the beliefs and strategies of our organization.  In other words, the relationship between our organization and the groups which make up the internal resistance will be based on mutual respect: comprehension and no meddling or impositions“.  He also pointed out that the executive structure of the Association will be made up of a president, a vice-president, and an executive secretary and a spokesperson.  “As the membership of the group grows and as it spreads throughout the country, we will then open different headquarters in different regions and provinces which will be headed by specific representatives previously designated by the national executives“.

The dissident and national coordinator of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front, Jorge Luis Garcia Antunez, published a welcome message for this religious group on his blog “I Won’t Shut Up, I’m Not Leaving“.  Antunez expressed that “in light of the foundation of this association, the political police has been deeply alarmed.  Firstly, because independent civil society is growing and, most of all, because the majority of the members of this group are political dissidents and many of them have participated or will participate in protests and other acts of  civil disobedience”.  Donaida Perez Paseiros is one of these activists which frequently participates in public demonstrations against the communist tyranny through her activism with the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights.

The Free Yoruba Association of Cuba has also opened its own Twitter account under the name @YorubaLibre, where it has already sent out numerous Tweets.

Each passing day, more and more Cubans who wish to live in a plural country raise their voices in favor of freedom.  The establishment of this new Afro-Cuban Yoruba association is yet another achievement of Cuba’s independent society which has been losing fear and demanding their political, social, economic, and religious rights.

Considering the absence of a state of rights in our country, our association has the sufficient moral strength to carry out each one of our activities without having to rely on the most minimal authorization of those who we consider to be atheists and ignorant on this subject and, most of all, non-representative of the freedoms and rights of the people”, affirmed Jonniel Riverol.

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