Cuban doctor faced bear, firing squad for sharing Bibles and spreading Gospel


Dr. Eliezer Veguilla’s medical training had prepared him to deal with a wide range of emergency situations, but only his Christian faith had prepared him for the terrible ordeal he suffered at the hands of Cuba’s secret police. Veguilla was arrested in Cuba on suspicion of being a CIA spy, and taken to a local prison where officials tried to force him to reveal the source of Bibles he was distributing in Cuba.

Veguilla’s first shock came when he met his cellmate — a huge bear. “When I was inside the cell with the bear, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to ‘fight the bear,'” Veguilla told journalist Dan Wooding in an interview at the Open Doors office in Fountain Valley, Calif. “I was ready to fight it but then I quickly felt like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I knew that the same God of Daniel was also the same one I had with me to protect me.

“When my heart calmed down a little, I noticed that the bear was very still and chained up. However, I still thought he could reach me and finish me in one second as I sat in a corner. The cell was very dirty with the bear’s waste matter everywhere and he smelled terrible. I sat quietly on the floor praising God and amazingly the bear remained calm the entire time. The only explanation I have is that God controlled him as I faced death in one of Castro’s cells.”

Veguilla said that his persecutors had stood near the door waiting for him to scream out for them to open the door, but he had not done this, instead he said he continued to praise God in a low voice saying, “Lord, I worship and glorify you.”

Eventually, after several hours, he was freed from the cell only to face a worse ordeal. “On the fourth day of being there, I was weak from several days without sleep, but still I had a peace inside of me,” he said. “Eventually the guards came and took me several floors underground and we entered a small room. There I saw two men who were screaming, ‘They will kill us, they will kill us.'”

Veguilla knew that he was prepared to die for his faith and determined that under no circumstances would he compromise his contacts. “They took the first man away and I heard gun shots and screaming,” he continued. “I was next. I was taken to a room where there was blood on the floor. I was tied to a large piece of wood on the wall.”

Veguilla was asked if he wanted a blindfold, but he refused it. “I have to confess that I was trembling and my heart was trembling,” he recalled. “Some men were then lined up and began aiming their guns at me. As they did I began shouting, ‘Cuba para Christo!’ ‘Cuba for Christ!’ I then said, ‘You are murderers, but God loves you. Cuba para Christo!’ I then prayed, Lord, if this is my time, Amen. I am ready to die.’

“Then I heard a voice say ‘Fire’ and I braced to receive the bullets, but all I heard was the dull thud of the gun triggers going off. There were no bullets in the guns and they all started to laugh. I later discovered that the other ‘prisoners’ were actually members of the secret police who had been dressed up as prisons as part of this elaborate and cruel hoax.”

The interrogations continued for 47 days during which Veguilla was submitted to other types of torture, such as being switched back and forth between below-freezing and boiling-hot chambers, having to try and sleep with two firearms aimed at his bed and misinformation concerning the state of his family, as well as being awakened at all hours of the night for intense interrogation.

Unable to find any real evidence for a conviction, the authorities placed him under house arrest for two years, which kept him from becoming involved in any Christian activities. He was eventually freed. After worldwide protests led by Open Doors with Brother Andrew and the Southern Baptist Alliance, on Sept. 15, 1995 (his birthday) he was allowed to move to the United States.

Being imprisoned for religious beliefs is a sort of family tradition for Veguilla. His father, the Rev. Leoncio Veguilla, was one of the pastors imprisoned in 1965 along with over 50 pastors and missionaries. “My father spent seven years in prison for his faith after being accused of being a CIA agent,” Veguilla recalled. “These were hard times because all of a sudden the churches found themselves without a pastor and the worst part was that the rest of the pastors were being threatened. Also, during these times, the youth were forcibly taken from our churches to the UMA (Military Units for the Young), which were like concentration camps.”

Veguilla worked as a doctor in Cuba and was able to start several churches and distribute Bibles. But his troubles began when be became involved with a Western organization that was bringing thousands of Bibles into Cuba in the 1980s. “Meeting with these brave Bible couriers opened my eyes even more to the power of God’s Word,” he stated. “I would help distribute their Bibles around Cuba and then I started having problems with the secret police.”

His difficulties came to a head in 1986, when he organized a large Christian youth event in Havana. “The government only permitted us to gather 300 people, but some 1,000 showed up” he recalled. “We then had a similar event in Santiago, Cuba, on the other side of the island and the same thing happened.”

At the closing of the Havana meting, Veguilla was arrested by two secret police agents, along with two others, including an American pastor from Atlanta. “During the 72 hours of interrogation, we were threatened, but God gave us the strength to not give in.” Even though the intimidation was coming thick and fast, this doctor then went on to organize a Christian youth event in Havana attended by 10,000 which had the theme of “Giving Ourselves To God.” He said that the secret police attended the gathering wearing T-shirts that said on the front, “Smile, God Loves You.” Yet despite their infiltration, he described it as a “precious time of worship and training.”

Communist persecution of the church in Cuba has had at least one good side effect, said Veguilla — the church is very unified. “We do not speak so much about denominations. For instance, our relationship with the Catholic Church is different to that in many other Latin countries. But in Cuba, you will find a Catholic priest and an evangelical pastor praying together throughout the week. This has occurred because we have all suffered the same experience. The whole Church in Cuba has been attacked and this has made us very united.”

— E.P. News

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