A twelve-year-old boy and his brother are currently being prohibited by Cuban educational authorities from entering their school while wearing their kippot following the onslaught of continuous beatings from fellow schoolmates.
The boy, Liusdan Martínez Lescaille, received the notice that he was forbidden to wear his kippah in school by Nuevitas Municipal Director of Education Osdeini Hernández Navarro on December 11 – reportedly due to inaction by the school’s security personnel to prevent the boy from repeatedly being attacked – claiming that the school and the educational authorities do not have the means to protect the boy, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Lescaille’s parents, Olainis Tejada Beltrán and Yeliney Lescaille Prebal, members of the Sephardic Bnei Anusim community in Cuba, claim that the ridicule began in September of 2019 after their son started school at the Latin America Urban Basic Secondary School in Nuevitas and since then the boy has been “subjected to four severe beatings” from conflicts brought upon by classmates.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added Cuba to the State Department’s Special Watch List on December 20, which monitors governments that have “engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom” in the past. Bullying at school, stemming from personal religious practices, is highly prevalent and relatively common in Cuba.
Following the denouncement of his son’s treatment through independent media outlets, Beltran attempted to form a commission to review the situation, considering the family had no other educational alternatives. During the endeavor, Beltran was pressured by educational authorities to retract his statements on multiple occasions – with authorities even going so far as threatening to expel the boy for “supposed acts of violence,” before five teachers stepped in to defend the child.
On December 11, it was announced that the educational authorities found the security guard guilty of failing to act when these beatings occurred – however, instead of the guard receiving punishment, the school decided to put a ban on the child wearing the kippah.
On December 17, the boy and his brother unsuccessfully attempted to enter the school while wearing their kippot – only to be turned away at the door.
The next day, municipal prosecutor Ismaray Vidal Marques issued a court summons requesting Beltran and Prebal to appear in his office by 10 a.m. the next day to review next steps.
After complying, the prosecutor informed the family that continued action could result in the loss of their right to guardianship over their children; in addition, prison sentences could be tacked on for “threatening their children’s normal development.”
“It is unconscionable that a child would be subjected to serious physical assault with no action taken by school officials whose duty it is to protect all children in their care, regardless of their religious beliefs. The fact that the educational authorities in Nuevitas have chosen to punish two children by closing the school doors to them unless they suppress their religious identity, rather than to hold to account those responsible for the attacks on him is illustrative of a more general hostility to religion within the Cuban school system,” CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said.
“We welcome the US State Department’s decision to put Cuba on the Special Watchlist for severe violations of religious freedom and call on the Cuban government to immediately take action to allow Liusdan, Daniel Moises, and other children like them who hold strong religious beliefs to continue their education without hindrance. We also call for the authorities to cease their harassment of Mr Tejada Beltrán and Mrs Lescaille Prebal and to drop any legal case against them. Religious discrimination within Cuban schools cannot be permitted to continue.”