Its a week late, but I think the story still has value about Cuba, especially in Miami.
Last Sunday (July 1, 2007), Michael Moore (director of the recently released documentary Sicko) appeared in an interview aired on Sunday's political news show This Week in South Florida, hosted by local and respected journalist Michael Putney. Since this is Miami, Putney quickly turned the discussion towards Cuba. (The issue of Cuba appears for the last 22 minutes of Moore's 2-hour documentary)
Putney acknowledges that Cuba's healthcare system is free to all Cuban citizens, but then asks Moore if he believes Cubans pay a "high price" for that service since Cuba suffers from many kinds of internal repression.
In my opinion, this question falsely assumes that both Cuban healthcare and systematic repression in Cuba are correlated in some fashion, and that somehow Cubans are intentionally choosing to "pay" this "high price." It's an absurd logic that falsely suggests Americans have CHOSEN to pay the "high price" of a "War on Terror" for increased security. (One recent poll shows that Americans think the war in Iraq is "going badly" and that "all troops" should be removed.)
Anyway, before Moore gave a complete answer, Putney went ahead to elaborate (as if he was running for office) and basically said that Cubans have no freedoms whatsoever. It would've made Lincoln, Mario and Ileana proud.
But, Putney fumbled and Moore intercepted. In a zealous attempt to put Moore in his place for filming in Cuba, Putney, listing accurately many violations of freedoms, said that Cubans don't have freedom of religion. Moore quickly rebutted by stating that he had seen many open churches and a Synagogue while in Havana. Putney immediately knew he had made an error and tried to recover by stating that Cuba had made improvements over the years in respect to religious freedoms. But, Moore had already made his point to correct Putney that his comment was fallacious. Putney 's interview ended on this embarrassing note.
Since 1992, when Cuba's constitution added Article 8 stating that the Cuban government "recognizes, respects and guarantees freedom of religion", the island nation has made many gestures to include religious freedoms for its citizens.
One article states that since 1991 the number of churches and house churches in Cuba has increased from 1,100 to 16,000.
Annual reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch no longer report on violations of religious freedoms in Cuba. The last mention that Human Rights Watch gave to Cuba stated that:
"Despite some limits on freedom of religion, religious institutions and their leaders were granted a degree of autonomy not granted to other bodies. Several religious-run groups distributed humanitarian aid and carried out social programs. The authorities did, however, continue to slow the entry of foreign priests and nuns, limit new church construction, and bar religious institutions from running schools (although religious instruction was allowed). In contrast to the first decades after the Cuban revolution, discrimination against overtly religious persons was rare."
This was from their 2003 report covering events from 2002.
Obviously, Putney made an error to suggest that Cubans have no freedom of religion. He was probably thinking about China or Saudi Arabia. So, why did he say it?
Recent news from Cuba even focused on the religious freedoms that many Cubans enjoy. Earlier this year, the Episcopal Church named the first ever female Bishop (Nerva Cot Aguilera) in Latin America to the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Havana.
Also reported recently, the "largest shipment of Children’s Christian material in Cuba’s history" was allowed into the island, revealing the growing membership within the Christian movement and its relationship with the Cuban government to "help in educating the youth and combating the country’s drug problems."
And, let's not forget about the Jews of Cuba.
There's no doubt that there are some limits that still exist in a nation that recently made a change to grant freedom of religion. But, even those limits that the US State Department reports are small. The US eventually admits that "[t]here were no reports of persons being detained on religious grounds." And, that "[t]he relationship among religious groups in general was amicable, and organized religious groups were widely respected in society."
But, in Miami, where many people easily accept that Cuba is Hell on Earth, even the most respected of journalists can give in to the falsehoods.