Rini Hernandez hears Cuban people chant "We're not afraid anymore"Missions and Outreach
Rev. Dr. Rinaldo "Rini" Hernandez initially couldn't believe the reports out of Cuba. People were marching in the streets, protesting against their authoritarian government.
As a native of Cuba, he knows what can happen when the people rise against their leaders in that island nation.
It's not good.
|Rev. Dr. Rini Hernandez|
"My first reaction was shock because we have not seen demonstrations like this in Cuba for 62 years. I couldn't believe my eyes that people were taking it to the streets. People have reached a limit of hunger, lack of medicines, COVID has been terrible. They've had more than 6,000 cases daily. A lot of people were dying," he said.
"These people are extremely brave for doing this. They know that for years and years, the government has put a lot of resources into the military to face these demonstrations. Where money has been lacking for people to have these services, they've spent millions and millions on the military."
And when people rose, the Cuban government quickly tried to put them back down. Internet access was cut off, making it harder for protesters to communicate.
"But people have been able to find what they call tunnels. They use VPN to send messages. I've been able to talk to pastors in Cuba," Hernandez said. "It's hard, though. The majority of people don't have access to the internet.
"They want to know why are we poor? Why don't we have enough medicine? The government always blames the U.S. for everything, but it's not the U.S.'s fault."
Soldiers dealt harshly with those who continued to resist.
"There's no access to guns in Cuba. People have not had access to guns for more than 60 years. If they find you with a gun, you'll get a lot of years in jail."
Hernandez is the Director, Latino/a Ministries for the Florida Conference and the Senior Pastor at Cape Coral UMC in Florida. He received his theological education in Matanzas Theological Seminary before earning his doctoral degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.
He also served The Methodist Church in Cuba for 23 years as a pastor, district superintendent, seminary professor, and church planter before moving to Miami in September 2001.
He keeps close tabs on his former home, and he has a message he says he felt "morally obligated to share."
"Something has dramatically changed because of the upheaval. If you could hear what people are chanting in the streets, the most common word is freedom, freedom, freedom," he said.
"The other chant is that we are not afraid anymore. The Cuban people have found their voice. They have not been allowed for 62 years to have a voice and to express their discontent. They have found their voice now and are going to exercise that right more freely now. They don't care about the consequences."
In addition to the crackdown, the Cuban government orchestrated a rally designed to show it still had the support of the people. People were supposed to report at 4:30 a.m. to begin lining up for the cameras of the state-run news outlets.
"They had a gathering of about 5,000 people, which is almost nothing compared to one million (Fidel) Castro was able to gather at Revolution Square in Havana," Hernandez said.
"I've heard from people who were told either you'll be there at 4:30 in the morning, or on Monday you won't have a job. I've heard from teachers who were told that they had to be there, or they wouldn't have a job. And even with those threats, they could only get 5,000 people."
The United Methodist Church, both here and in Cuba, stands in full support of the Cuban people.
"I think that group Methodists United In Prayer put together a very significant document," Hernandez said. "No. 1 is prayer, absolutely. We are encouraging that."
In a statement, Methodists United in Prayer echoed the words of the Methodist Church in Cuba and condemns all violence against the people of Cuba. They called upon churches in Florida and across our nation to:
1. FAST and PRAY for the people of Cuba. "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?" – Isaiah 58:6
2. Lift up a SHARED PRAYER on Sunday Worship for the people of Cuba. "Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses." – Psalm 107:2
3. GIVE towards relief for the people of Cuba through the Methodist Church in Cuba. "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" – 1 John 3:17
The time is now.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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