HAVANA, Cuba, Wednesday December 30, 2015 – A 70-year-old Cuban-American who has lived in the United States for 40 years was arrested in Cuba for mounting a public Christmas display featuring a giant inflatable Santa Claus and other seasonal characters.
Francisco Morales had set up the display on the roof of his family’s home in Havana, attracting neighbourhood children who wanted to take pictures with Santa Claus.
The decorations also attracted the attention of Cuban state police, who promptly took Morales away to a secure prison facility in the capital.
Breitbart News reports that Morales was charged with “interrupting pedestrian traffic” and released after several hours of detention.
An independent journalist filmed the scene outside the family home, where incensed parents protested Morales’ arrest for bringing “more sadness into the lives of their children.” The children also reportedly approached police, requesting that they leave the display intact.
Morales told the independent outlet Cubanet that he had been setting up a similar display at his family’s home for the past ten years.
“I come to Cuba every year to visit my family for Christmas, and for the past ten years I have prepared a cartoon exhibition with animated characters and other images related to the holidays.
“I asked [the state police] to consider the spiritual benefits of this sort of event for children, but they did not listen and threatened me with police action if I did not comply,” he added.
“I will not give up,” Morales insisted. “I am going to find another viable way for children to keep receiving the little bit of joy they so need. They deserve all the sacrifice in the world and I will continue to dedicate the rest of my life to this labour of love.”
Cuba joins the Islamic countries of Tajikistan and Brunei in cracking down on public celebrations of Christmas, though the Cuban government has not issued an explicit ban, using tangential ordinances to end any hint of a celebration, Breitbart reports.
The communist government forbids explicit displays of faith, particularly on the part of political dissidents. For the past year, secret police have detained, verbally abused, and beaten the members of the Ladies in White dissident group, comprised of female relatives of political prisoners. The government has also ordered the destruction of at least five Christian churches in the past year, according to Breitbart.
Last week, Jorge Serpa, the bishop of western Pinar del Rio, testified to personally witnessing the abuse of prisoners of conscience. He asserted there are political prisoners serving up to 40-year sentences for their rejection of communist ideology.
The US State Department estimates that up to 10,000 unregistered “house churches” exist in Cuba, in which services are performed in private homes out of the government’s sight.
The State Department also notes that evidence exists that the government has “harassed outspoken religious leaders, prevented human rights activists from attending religious services, and in some cases employed violence to prevent activists from engaging in public political protests when exiting religious services.”
Cuban President Raúl Castro has nevertheless hosted Pope Francis and has even joked that “if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church.”