Cuba jails evangelical church leader

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Cuban authorities jailed an evangelical pastor who until last year served as national president of his denomination, apparently on charges of aiding emigrants who sought to leave the country illegally. The arrest was made Feb. 20

Relatives of the Rev. Carlos Lamelas, however, said the allegations against him are groundless. Some sources inside the island nation believe police targeted Lamelas for harassment because he has challenged the Castro regime on religious rights issues.

On the morning of his arrest, five police officers entered the Lamelas home in Havana and searched it thoroughly before taking the pastor into custody. They also confiscated his computer, personal documents and several pieces of office equipment.

Initially, his wife, Uramis Lamelas, did not know the whereabouts of her husband. Later that the week, she learned where he was being held and requested an interview with him.

A week passed before authorities granted her a 10-minute visit on Feb. 27. His wife said her husband appeared “exhausted and depressed,” and that he had been isolated from other inmates during his confinement.

Although the couple could not speak openly because police officers stood close by during their visit, Lamelas told his wife that officials are evidently seeking to incriminate him for aiding emigrants seeking to flee Cuba without government permission.

At press time, Cuban authorities had not advised Lamelas or his family of the charges against him.

Nevertheless, those who know the Lamelas family said any allegations of aiding emigrants are totally unfounded.

“They accuse him of getting people out of the country illegally, which is a big lie, because to do this costs a lot of money,” said one close family member. “If he had that kind of money, he wouldn’t be living with hunger like he is now.”

Sources in Havana said that the apparent allegations against Lamelas are part of a harassment campaign aimed at silencing a dynamic religious leader.

An ordained minister of the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) for more than a decade, Lamelas planted several house churches while pastoring a local congregation on the Isle of Youth. In 2004, while serving as president of the denomination’s General Assembly of ministers, Lamelas moved his family to Havana.

His troubles began soon after the move when Lamelas’s resisted what he considered inappropriate government interference in church affairs. At one point, he refused to sign what amounted to a loyalty pledge to the Castro regime and challenged as unconstitutional certain controls over church activities.

A year ago January, just two months after the Church of God annual convention overwhelmingly endorsed Lamelas for a second term as president, the national board of directors voted to oust him from the position and expel him from the church.

Dozens of fellow ministers who questioned the move and expressed support for Lamelas were also expelled, without appeal.

Cuba’s director of Religious Affairs issued a ruling almost immediately that endorsed the disciplinary action against Lamelas, a move that aroused suspicions of government complicity in the affair.

Deprived of income and under constant surveillance, Lamelas and his family have depended on the kindness of friends to survive for the past year. During that time, police twice detained him for questioning before his arrest.

Before following his call to the ministry, Lamelas worked as a professional scuba diver. He and his wife are the parents of two daughters.

A long-time friend who spoke to Uramis Lamelas March 1 by phone described her as “not upset, very calm,” despite her ordeal.

Published by Keener Communications Group, April 2006

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