By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com
A Cuban pastor who has been harshly critical of the government says he was denied permission to travel abroad last month for a religious gathering even though his passport and visa were all in order. Bernardo de Quesada Salomón said he was checking in at the Havana airport Nov. 27 for a flight to the Dominican Republic when immigration officials told him his computer records showed he had a “limitation” and could not leave the island. Authorities never told him the reasons for the block, de Quesada said, but State Security officials in his hometown of Camagüey told neighbors that it was because he had illegally added a bathroom to a house he was turning into a church.
Cuba’s government lifted a widely hated requirement for an exit permit on Jan. 14, but retained the power to block any travel abroad for a blanket “national interest” that has never been detailed. Others blocked from traveling abroad have included another pastor in de Quesada’s Apostolic Movement Fire and Dynamics, Mario May Medina, and a dozen former political prisoners paroled before completing their long sentences.
The London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an organization that advocates religious freedom and human rights and was sponsoring the conference in the Dominican Republic, urged the Cuban government to lift the “limitation.” De Quesada’s participation in the conference “cannot seriously be considered a threat to national security,” Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement Thursday. “CSW is concerned that this may open the door to the Cuban government arbitrarily banning other religious leaders from traveling out of the country.”
De Quesada, 48, an Evangelical pastor, said he was arrested, harassed and blocked from traveling abroad several times from 2003 to this year because of his work with the Apostolic Movement Fire and Dynamics and the New Apostolic Reform in Cuba. He is not a dissident, he said, but his efforts to “preach the biblical truth have put me against this communist government,” he told El Nuevo Herald on Thursday in a phone interview from Camagüey. De Quesada said he made two trips abroad this year, the last one in October, but apparently angered State Security officials in Camagüey when scores of his supporters greeted him at the city’s airport on this last return.