I have a friend at my factory who is the son and son-in-law of Pentecostal pastors well known in the Cuban house church movement. He is an assistant pastor at a Kitchener Latin fellowship and he serves our company as a versatile metal worker.
The accent is distinctively "Desi Arnaz" and in a resonant low voice. The face is handsome and the eyes straight and clear. In his story he would relate that he gained permission to leave the island alone on a speaking tour through various American churches. He never went back home, but continued up to Canada, having friends and sponsors in the Latin community in Kitchener. His claim was one of refugee with a long story of the persecution which his family had experienced under the Castro regime for holding Christian services.
The house church under his father-in-law had gotten so productive, with several gatherings daily and all over the "house property", that the police resolved to shut him down for unauthorized assembly. He showed the visiting officers throughout a typical Sunday and advised that the meetings meant spiritual life to his flock. He could not terminate, but told the officer that it would have to be his call. Looking around at the large gathering the constable backed down.
Within the next day or so the pastor was arrested, placed in custody and brought to trial without legitimate counsel. Completely bogus. News spread like wildfire through the church community and within hours a large demonstration/church service was being held on the court-house lawn. It was a milestone event but to no avail. The pastor was convicted and sentenced to two years, which he served. There has been a rise and fall for years in the government's toleration of "small" gatherings for worship. It is hard to know which way the wind is blowing from month to month.
This spurred my friend to arrange for a departure. To my knowledge he waited over three years for clearance for his lovely wife and three children to follow to Kitchener. There are many similar stories in the local Latin community. Affluent travelers in our region who applaud the idyllic environment and program of controlled resorts in Cuba need to know the true goods on the Castro regime.
Another Cuban friend at work, this one rotund and humorous with a strikingly arresting countenance and alertness, tells a different story. He was arrested for engaging in "unlawful currency exchanges" and sentenced to a year in the imposing prison city in Havana. Everyone was in there - hardened criminals, professionals, intellectuals, artists, common decent men. He had chosen to be involved in the barter of shrimp, a common activity, for a little extra spending potential in an economy otherwise operating on lean food stamps and vouchers. No room for independent initiative. He has a spellbinding account of conditions inside and of the manipulation by inmate and guard alike. Certainly this man is no criminal. With a biting wit, he now jokes about anything Communist or socialist or "at all pink". He tells us of television broadcasting interrupted by Fidel for "cultural" presentations/speeches which would run on for hours.
It was during one of the world cup soccer championships and people in our region were flying their respective home-country flags on cars and at homes. My friend made the comment that there was only one flag for him hereafter - "the maple leaf, our emblem dear".
Both of these men are a pleasure to work with and I am richer for knowing them.
Note: This posting got me thinking how multi-cultural our little metal-fab shop has been over the years. So many nations represented well here. Poland. Trinidad, Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Israel, India, Iraq, Somalia, Portugal, Italy. And in this fashion the world has also come to Waterloo Region.