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Cuba Jails Evangelical Church Leader

Special to Compass Direct

Last week Cuban authorities jailed an evangelical pastor who served as national president of his denomination until last year, apparently on charges of aiding emigrants who sought to leave the country illegally.

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 February 20, five police officers entered the Lamelas home in Havana and searched it thoroughly before arresting Lamelas. They also confiscated his computer, personal documents and several pieces of office equipment.

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

One week passed before authorities granted her a 10-minute visit on Monday (February 27). Uramis Lamelas 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 the interview, 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 , Indiana ) 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, due to Lamelas’s resistance to 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.

In January of 2005, 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 Carlos for questioning before his arrest last week.

Before following his call to the ministry, Lamelas worked as a professional scuba diver. He and his wife are the parents of two daughters, Estefanía, 12, and Daniela, 5.

A long-time friend who spoke to Uramis Lamelas yesterday by phone described her as “not upset, very calm,” despite the ordeal she is facing.

“She has hired a lawyer, and maybe next week she will start the legal process, but I don’t know how long this will take,” he said. “She asked for prayers for Carlos, and I am sure that right now it’s all we can do.”