The Force of Conscience: How Opposition to Gender Ideology United Cuba
In the year 168 B.C., the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes marched on Jerusalem and forced the Jews to join the spread of Hellenism, injecting foreign ideas into the ancient Hebrew culture. The book of Maccabees recounts the capture of the holy Temple of Jerusalem, which his soldiers desecrated by erecting an altar to the Greek god Zeus inside. He prohibited the worship of Jehovah and ordered the Jews to eat food considered unclean.
Faced with this attempt at social engineering and foreign imposition, the elderly Matatías and his sons, called Maccabees, led a rebellion of the faithful that crushed the occupiers in a guerrilla war. For centuries the Jewish people have remembered victory on Hanukkah.
Between 1568 and 1648 a war shook the northwest of continental Europe. The restriction of religious freedom in the Netherlands, then under Spanish rule, was one of the main triggers for the 80 Years War, which achieved Dutch independence, and made the country a Western power.
While John Calvin may never have set foot in the country, his teachings in the Protestant Reformation period found fertile ground in the Netherlands. In fact, almost all political parties at the end of the 19th century adopted his teachings.
According to the World History Encyclopedia, the Protestant Reformation had reached the Netherlands in the 1560s, yet persecution of non-Catholics was ongoing. The religious tension was increasing, until muskets and knives flooded the streets.
The Dutch built a society “based on respect, acceptance, self-discipline and efficiency, where hard work is valued, justice can be done and talents are encouraged,” typical of other nations whose foundation was marked by Protestantism, like Switzerland or the United States.
On the other side of the Atlantic there was also a war to trample on the faith. The Cristero War, in 1926, dyed Mexico, with its Catholic majority, red for three long years. It happened after the regime of Plutarco Elías Calles restricted freedom of worship and with it that of expression.
The limitation on freedom of worship, in the 1917 Constitution, worsened with the closure of churches, the expulsion of foreign priests, and the execution of faithful and religious leaders.
Hundreds of thousands of peasants, workers, and even soldiers in the army conspired or took up arms against the Mexican state. The photos reveal an army of thin soldiers in rags, skin cracked by the sun. It was the common man against an elite, who in their urban palaces viewed popular devotion with contempt.
The tyrant Elías Calles, gunman of the Mexican Revolution, had founded the Mexican Labor Party (PLM) to transition from shooting to politics, and, in the dark cycle of almost all revolutionaries, to return to bullets, but this time from the State. The PLM, under which Mexico was filled with believers shot and hung from electricity poles, had a Marxist inspiration, as witnessed by its affiliation with the Second Socialist International. Calles is the father of the current National Revolutionary Party.
The disorganized popular militias pushed the army back when General Enrique Gorosieta took command of the Cristeros, a man of republican values who at the beginning of the war neither believed in God nor wielded arms. Both things changed as he walked the risky path of justice, after meeting so many people of faith, so many throats defending “Long live Christ the King.”
That was also the cry of those executed in the pits of La Cabaña, the largest fortress of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, converted by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara into a human meat grinder. The Cuban Revolution made the island the head of the Marxist and atheist serpent in the region.
Among the first institutions to be weakened were the churches, which applauded the flight of General Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, but shortly rejected the socialist hijacking of the process and supported propaganda and the anti-totalitarian drive. Faith mobilized Cubans. “With the cross as emblem we will destroy the sickle,” says the hymn of the Plantados; the monogram of the 2506 Assault Brigade bears a cross.
In the context of the West, Cuba was and is a nation with a Catholic majority and an increasing number of Protestants. The anomaly of a country under communism, which insults and persecutes faith, natural law, and Judeo-Christian tradition, has turned the island into a hemispheric parenthesis.
“Stalinism,” “Castroism,” “Chavismo.” Every time someone applies Marxism as a political system, he only manages to turn his name into a new tyrant franchise.
While freedom and development make their way in the region, even with imperfections, on the island the promise of a historic leap has barely left millions of souls wandering towards the pre-Columbian world. They are without electricity due to frequent blackouts, with herbal medicine and roots to make up for the shortage of antibiotics.
As in the first decades of the Cuban Revolution, since 2018 an important civic movement has had the church and the faith community as its protagonist. That year, precisely, the state proposed a series of modifications to the legal body of the nation. They modified the constitution and the penal code, for example, in order to screw themselves into power in the midst of a generational change at the helm of the country, and to win the favor and juicy grants of global organizations, aligning themselves with the 2030 agenda.
This upcoming September marks one year since the greatest political defeat to the regime, in Cuba, was inflicted by the citizens. I am referring to the resounding failure of the Family Code (CdF, by its acronym in Spanish), renamed “of Families” from the Palace of the Revolution.
In 2021, Christian parents from various parts of the island, concerned about the injection of gender ideology and the greater restriction on freedom in the CdF, joined forces in founding the campaign “To school, but without gender ideology” (ALEPSIG, by its acronym in Spanish). Among the initiators were community leaders or prestigious men in the fields of science or the arts, such as the maxillofacial surgeon Oscar Rivero or the audiovisual producer Sandy Cancino.
The civic movement, which spread rapidly between believers and non-believers, demanded academic freedom, freedom of conscience, and the right of parents to choose the education of their children. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the brutal closure ordered by Castroism, ALEPSIG mobilized, door to door, in all the municipalities of the country, women and men opposed to the regime.
The intelligence and leadership capacity of the parents regarding the initiative were tested in the midst of a system that prevents free assembly and association. Smuggling the original signatures from end to end of the island, printing thousands of sheets of copies, and keeping the boxes with the original signatures in a safe and secret place involved a complex network of members.
Managing groups on social networks for debate and communication with supporters and also with those who attacked the initiative was a challenge when Facebook, for example, quickly grew from dozens to hundreds, and eventually more than 13,000 members.
From there, fasting, religious services, conferences via the Telegram app with psychologists, etc. were called — a whole world of activism outside the state. Several churches jumped on the bandwagon once the parents demonstrated progress and capacity on the ground.
The houses of believers became a hive of freedom of conscience in those days. Families naturally expressed their concerns, while others hosted real debates about the dangers of the new legislation in their homes. These meetings ended, in many cases, with a profound rejection of the socialist system itself — a snowball effect in the hot Cuban political tropics. When one freedom is affected, in this case that of religion, it is easy to recognize the decline of the rest.
In the case of both debates, neither was covered by the official or non-state media.
Another of the results of the pressure exerted by ALEPSIG was that for the first time the regime had to give access on television to a civil society leader openly opposed to its policies. I am referring to the speech, on April 1, 2021, by the professor and pastor Bárbaro Abel Marrero, at the head of the Havana Baptist Seminary.
His speech focused on defending the family, and in it, for the first time, someone said in the face of the State that it constituted a threat to the freedom of conscience of all Cubans. While the exhibition went viral with applause on social networks, the state press and part of the independent ones attacked Marrero’s position.
This exposed a significant distance between the citizens and those who write about the Cuban reality — ordinary people, represented by an evangelical leader, versus an elite that defended the social engineering promoted by totalitarianism.
The repercussions for Oscar Rivero and his family were not long in coming. He was summoned and threatened by the political police countless times. “In the face of these attacks, he opted for discretion, and moved away from the media vedettismo. No victimization, there has only been work in Rivero’s last year,” said the CubaTrendings website when naming him Person of the Year 2022.
ALEPSIG carried out the second largest collection of signatures in 63 years of dictatorship, with 140,000 against the introduction of gender ideology in the Family Code. Although the authorities refused to receive the hundreds of pages with signatures on November 29, 2021, the implementation of Resolution 16/2021 of the Castro Ministry of Education, which inoculated the already ideologized school curriculum with a gender “focus,” was postponed in December 2021, until August 2022, pending the approval of the Family Code, authorities said.
That was the second achievement of the Campaign: it stopped a state law for almost a year.
On September 25, 2022, in the Referendum for the Family Code, the ALEPSIG campaign contributed to a third historic result: for the first time the Cuban regime had to publicly accept that only a minority of the population supported one of its policies.
The regime announced at the end of September its “victory” in the vote for the Family Code. However, things were not so. Between the “I Do Not Vote’s” and the “I Vote No’s,” more than half of the electoral roll rejected the Code.
In favor of “Yes,” only 3,936,790 ballots were counted, according to the National Electoral Council itself. Meanwhile, out of a total register of 8,447,467 voters, almost 26% did not go to the polls, that is, 2,196,341. Among those who did go to vote, the total number of invalid ballots was 359,081. And in favor of “No,” 1,950,090 ballots were deposited. Adding up, 4,505,512 Cubans eligible to vote (53.33% of the electoral roll) rejected the Code or did not participate in the final step associated with its approval. This is the most unpopular state policy in six decades. In truth, the “Yo No Voto” and the “Yo Voto No” won. All the legislation associated with the Code cannot be seen in any other way than as a clear state imposition, crushing the majority popular rejection.
It is, however, a victory for the civil society that was organized and civically made itself heard; especially for the Cuban evangelical community and ALEPSIG, they increased their prestige and appeal among believing and non-believing citizens.
The campaign’s official Facebook page stated: “The best is yet to come for Cuba, thanks to all the members of civil society who supported the No. Thanks to the Cuban family, today we have managed to be the majority and we have to continue developing actions.” It concluded, with irony: “To this result, it is not even a Pyrrhic victory, it is a great defeat for the promoters of the Code, and for the Government … it is increasingly alone.”
Knowing that in a dictatorship it is very easy to change the percentages of votes, it is very illustrative that the official figures continue to be so adverse. That only has one possible reading: the rejection of the Family Code, in the first instance, and the regime, in the second place, was massive.
For the first time under totalitarianism, the majority of the Cuban population rejected (whether by abstention or negative vote) a state policy (the imposition of gender ideology). For the first time, a proposal from the regime was a minority in a referendum (if we add “Yo No Voto” and “Yo Voto No”). The abstention was the highest in any electoral process in almost 64 years.
The National Electoral Council updated on October 5, 2022, the figures for September. In the final results, the “Yes” votes fell slightly, from 66.87 to 66.85% with respect to the preliminary results, and the “No” votes increased slightly, from 33.13 to 33.15%. For its part, abstention rose from 25.01% to 25.88%.
The totalitarian State, with all its institutions and officials, positioned itself in favor of the “Yes” with an intense campaign in official media, public spaces, and social networks.
“In revolutionary Cuba there is an experience of three referendums from 1959 to date. In 1976, when the constitutional referendum was held, participation, according to official data, was 98% of the register and approval was 97%. Then, in 2019, the participation was 84% and the approval was 90%. And then in the last elections, those of 2018, participation was 85% and in 2013 it was 90.88%,” said Jesús Delgado Valery, director of institutional development of the NGO Electoral Transparency. “The abstention of 26% is historic in the ‘electoral processes’ of Cuba.”
In the “parliamentary elections” of March 2023, after a campaign that had the full embrace of the independent press and opposition organizations, abstention, according to official figures, was only 24.08%.
In all this, it is important to remember that ALEPSIG did not have the help of opposition organizations, or the reflectors of the independent press. In most cases, even when freedom activists sympathized with the campaign, their organizations remained silent.
At the same time, the Cuban state launched a harsh communication and intimidation campaign, using the Cuban propaganda machine and the forces of the political police against the leaders of the anti-gender ideology civic movement.
In complete independence and against all forces, ALEPSIG achieved what no other peaceful initiative in the totalitarian era achieved: hundreds of thousands of Cubans, at the same time, pushing the dictatorship. With the distance of centuries and modes, religious freedom continues to be magnetizing the will of the people.
The same feeling crossed the Maccabees, the Protestants in the old continent, the Cristeros, and the Cubans of this century and of the past: the right that power not crush conscience.
The author wants to thank Ashland University for the help to edit and translate this essay.