Window Into Cuba
By Hans Olson, Office of Adventist Mission
Just 150 kilometers (90 miles) separate Cuba from the United States and the coast of Florida. As the only Communist country in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba has had a tremulous relationship with the United States since the 1960s. Some 11 million people live in this Caribbean country made up of an archipelago of islands. Once considered one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean, the country has been repressed both economically and socially over the past half century.
Christopher Columbus, while on his famed “New World” exploration, claimed Cuba for Spain in 1492. Over the next several centuries large numbers of African slaves were brought to Cuba to work the coffee and sugar plantations. Other Spanish ships from Central and South America rendezvoused in Cuba with their bounty bound for Europe, making Havana an important port for the Spanish Empire.
Although briefly occupied by the British, the island remained a Spanish colony until 1868, when Cuba declared its independence. While most other “New World” colonies sought and gained independence from Spain much earlier, Cuba remained loyal, perhaps because of the value of its exports to Europe and its concern about the United States’ influence in the region.
Spain continued to control Cuba until 1895, when a revolution led by José Julián Martí, with intervention from the United States, resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Cuba.
Until the present government took over in 1959, Cuba was considered the world’s lar-gest producer of sugar. Various trade embargoes throughout the past half century have limited Cuba’s economy. The exportation of tobacco and sugar remains important to the nation’s economy.
Adventism in Cuba
As secretary of the Mission Board of the General Conference, W. A. Spicer’s visit to Cuba in the winter of 1902, and subsequent The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald articles, prompted the first Adventist missionaries to start colporteur and medical missionary work in the fall of 1903.
A few years later the Adventist Church officially organized the Cuban Mission. In 1905 the first congregation was organized in a suburb just outside Havana.
The first Cubans to become Seventh-day Adventists were Pedro Cruz and Manuel Avila. Cruz became acquainted with some Adventist missionaries, read their literature, and invited his friend Avila to attend meetings with him. The two were baptized May 18, 1907. Later that same year eight more individuals were baptized.
In 1935 a radio program, La Voz del Atalaya (“The Voice of the Watchman”) began broadcasting out of Havana, with Miguel Vásquez as speaker. In 1942 the General Conference Radio Department appointed Braulio Pérez Marcio to prepare and record Spanish-language programs that were broadcast on radio station CMQ throughout the Caribbean. Although the radio broadcasts have since been discontinued, a Bible correspondence school still functions.
The Adventist Church had 40 elementary schools on the island until all private schools were banned in 1961. The Cuban Adventist Seminary still operates, but the enrollment has dropped significantly since the early 1960s.
In 1994 some 11,000 Adventists lived in Cuba. Just six years later the church had more than doubled to 23,000 members. Today the Adventist Church in Cuba continues to grow, with many congregations having outgrown their facilities.
To learn more about the Adventist Church in Cuba watch this quarter’s Adventist Mission DVD or visit www.AdventistMission.org.