MIAMI — Cuban authorities say two Baptist leaders held in jail for 11 days in a city on the eastern end of the island are suspected of illegal economic activities.
Associated Baptist Press first reported Oct. 13 that Rubén Ortiz-Columbié, coordinator for special projects of the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, and Francisco “Pancho” Garcia, director of the convention’s teen department, had been arrested Oct. 3 and held without formal charge since then. They were being held in the city of Santiago de Cuba.
The following day El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language sister paper to The Miami Herald, reported that Ortiz, 68, and Ruiz, 46, were arrested by agents of Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police as they entered the province of Guantanamo to deliver financial aid to churches.
A prosecutor’s report obtained by the newspaper said authorities seized the equivalent of about $4,000 from the men at the time of arrest. It said the men were trying to aid a group of small agricultural producers in the region — without authorization from the appropriate government body — through an effort the document called the “Fishermen’s Project,” or “Proyecto de Pescadores.”
Ortiz’s son, Ruben Ortiz, pastor of First Hispanic Baptist Church in Deltona, Fla., told El Nuevo Herald his church has been sending money to Cuba to help buy food and support repairs of church buildings, many of which were damaged by three hurricanes last year.
Cuban authorities said the men are being detained as a precautionary measure while they complete the case file.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida is licensed to send funds to the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention and has transferred $7,000 since October 2008. The younger Ortiz told the newspaper that he sent paperwork documenting the transfer to Cuba Oct. 12.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)