HAVANA – A 20-year-old history student dared to publicly criticize the Cuban government. He also defied them when he met with U.S. officials to try to influence President Donald Trump's policy.
During a meeting with representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington, Félix Llerena wore a suit and tie. The ten members of the U.S. federal government commission make policy recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of State and Trump.
Llerena documented his trip on social media. He drank coffee under the U.S. flag and visited the Radio y Televisión Martí studio in Miami. The U.S. federal government has been financing the TV station's programs in Spanish since 1990.
"I am returning to continue the struggle for your true liberation," Llerena wrote on Facebook during his return flight to Cuba.
Cuban customs' officials detained him for about four hours when he arrived April 27 at the Aeropuerto Abel Santamaría in Santa Clara. He reported they seized his tablet, flash drives, a pamphlet of the U.S. Constitution, a cap with the Bay of Pigs Invasion Brigade 2506 logo and cards. The alleged harassment didn't stop there.
Cuban police officers later went to pick him up at his home in the province of Villa Clara's town of Encrucijada. He told friends that state security agents called him a "terrorist," accused him of having ties to terrorists living in Miami and threatened him with not being able to go back to the town.
"I am a young Christian, a Cuban, a patriot and a pacifist," Llerena later said in a statement. "I would never approve of an armed or violent struggle, or of an armed foreign invasion that would hurt my people."
On Monday, Llerena learned that the Universidad de Ciencias Pedagógicas Enrique José Varona's administrators decided to expulse him. They attributed their decision to absenteeism.
"They told me that if I wanted to return I had to wait for two years ... But of course everyone knows that my expulsion is due to purely political reasons," Llerena wrote on Facebook.
Llerena traveled to the U.S. as part of a Christian delegation that included Baptist church leaders Mario Felix Lleonart, Yoaxis Marcheco and Raudel Garcia Bringas, and Apostolic Movement Pastor Yiorvis Bravo. They are part of the island's Christian revival.
The Cuban constitution recognizes freedom of religion. As a result, clergy and academics estimate there are some 40,000 Methodists, 100,000 Baptists and 120,000 members of the Assemblies of God. About 60 percent of Cubans are baptized Catholic, with many also following Afro-Cuban syncretistic traditions such as Santeria.
Llerena also serves as the central region coordinator for the Patmos Institute, a Christian organization that promotes religious liberty on the island. He is also a promoter for CubaDecide, a campaign to request an electoral vote to begin a transition to Democracy on the island.
Mervyn Thomas, the director of the London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, released a statement asking the Cuban government "to cease its harassment of Felix and to turn its attention to addressing its ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief as a matter of urgency."