In 1994, Cuban secret police arrested Eliezar Veguilla after the pastor organized a Baptist conference in Havana that attracted 5,000 youth. Police charged him with being a counterrevolutionary spy working for the CIA.

Cockroaches crawled over Veguilla's body during confinement in darkness up to 16 hours a day. Authorities told Veguilla that if he refused to confess to being a CIA operative he would be placed in a cell with a ferocious bear, visible through a screen.

Then prison guards threw him into a dimly lit dungeonlike room with a bear. A frightened Veguilla prepared to meet his Maker. "I decided at that moment never to confess anything to the government," Veguilla, 39, told Christianity Today. But he had been tricked. This was a different bear, declawed and chained.

Two days later, the mind games returned. Moments after hearing gunfire and screams, authorities lined Veguilla up against a wall as a firing squad raised its guns. Ordered to confess, Veguilla, emboldened by the life-changing encounter with the bear, shouted "Cuba for Christ! Cuba for Christ!" The rifle triggers clicked, but the firing chambers clinked empty. Veguilla, now a refugee in the Miami area, will never forget the sound of soldiers laughing after his mock execution.

WHEN WILL CUBA OPEN? Although few Cuban Christians are subjected to such terrifying experiences, church leaders are keenly aware of the state's ruthless exercise of power under Fidel Castro. Soon after seizing power in 1959, Castro implemented hard labor and so-called re-education programs for those he considered the dregs of society: drug addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals—and pastors. Nearly 40 years later, the re-education camps are gone. But physical beatings and other ill treatment ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.