HAVANA — An American homeschool organization is seeking the intervention of the Trump administration after several homeschooling fathers in Cuba were arrested for not sending their children to public school.
According to a report from the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), three men were recently taken into custody by authorities because of their homeschooling practices.
One of the men, Jose Martinez Payares, had enrolled his children in a Christian distance school out of Mexico. He was following in the footsteps of Ramón Rigal, a pastor whose children are enrolled in the same program. The third man has asked to remain anonymous.
As previously reported, Rigal and his wife Adya were similarly arrested in 2017 after authorities realized their children were not attending school. They had received a letter from the Municipal Office of Education, which advised that “in our system, homeschooling is not considered an educational institution, as this term is basically used in countries with capitalist foundations.” It also warned that Cuban criminal code penalizes those who lead a child to be “absent from school.”
Rigal was sentenced to one year in prison and his wife was ordered to be placed under house arrest. His sentence was later commuted to hard labor, but the pastor fears that he might actually be imprisoned this time.
He says that he was recently told that he was not welcome in Cuba, being seen as a homeschool rebel and “ringleader,” but when he attempted to leave with his family, he was given a stipulation that he could not accept.
“They told me that before I leave, I have to condemn the other families who are homeschooling their children and to tell them to stop and put their children in school,” Rigal explained to HSLDA. “This I cannot do.”
The organization says that Rigal and the other men do not want to send their children to government school because of the prevalent atheist communist ideology.
“The Rigals and Payares families — along with several others, are in an impossible situation,” HSLDA outlined. “Their religious convictions do not allow them to send their children to the atheistic communist Cuban schools, and they are not able to leave the country. They believe that their rights as parents under international law demand respect.”
President J. Michael Smith and Senior Counsel Michael Donnelly have now penned an open letter asking President Trump for assistance.
“I am writing to ask for your help on a matter of great importance to our community and one that touches our cherished principles of religious freedom, the institution of the family and our nation’s exceptional and unique place in the world as a shining city on a hill,” it reads in part.
“With just a few powerful characters of prose on Twitter and instructions to your administration, you can help protect Pastor Ramón and set an example for others to follow,” the letter states.
The correspondence is copied to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas, and Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, among others. Supporters may also sign a petition likewise calling for the president’s intervention.
“We are being persecuted and besieged by the Ministry of Education and the prosecutor’s office in Cuba,” one father, Yordimile Mustelier, told HSLDA. “They constantly threaten us with prison if we do not immediately send our children to school. This is totally contrary to our Christian principles.”
“Please, please, on behalf of our families, defend our cause before the UN, write to the president of Cuba, Díaz-Canel, and to the United States of America!”