Cuban Communist Party official Caridad Diego comes to the U.S. regularly to shop and visit relatives. When she returns to Cuba, she resumes her 9-to-5 job as director of Havana’s Office of Religious Affairs. The title sounds bland, but Ms. Diego oversees the repression of independent Cuban religious leaders. Like many bureaucrats in corrupt regimes, Ms. Diego arbitrarily enforces the law against her political enemies while flouting the same rules as she pleases.
Officials like this operate around the world, often in relative anonymity. But a small U.S. government organization, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, helps change that. When a Cuban Methodist pastor was detained in Havana last month, USCIRF called on the U.S. Embassy in Havana to ban Ms. Diego from visiting the U.S. until Cuban religious leaders can travel abroad to attend conferences. Pastors on the island tell me she was so rattled by USCIRF’s call for a visa ban that change may soon come.
This kind of direct action has been at the core of USCIRF’s mission since its creation in 1998. Its architects knew that the enemies of religious freedom aren’t only tyrants. They include simple bureaucrats who share their rulers’ desire for control. Believing that a bureaucracy can’t be defeated by creating another bureaucracy, Congress ensured the nine USCIRF commissioners were unpaid, independent volunteer voices selected from both political parties. They were to answer to no one, apart from the American people whose principles of liberty they represent abroad. This is part of why I accepted House Speaker Paul Ryan’s appointment to the commission in 2016.
But now USCIRF may be changing. In September the Senate introduced a bill that would shift its stated purpose and burden commissioners with new bureaucratic hurdles. The bill was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, Cory Gardner, Dick Durbin and Chris Coons, who say the reforms are necessary for transparency and accountability. Whatever their intentions, the damage would be real.