US blockade on Cuba halts major Latin American church gathering

By agency reporter
14 Dec 2012

The United States economic blockade against Cuba has forced the postponement of the 6th General Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), scheduled for 19 to 24 February 2013 in Havana, Cuba.

The American branch of the Ecuadorian bank Pichincha in Miami froze a deposit of 101,000 US dollars made by the CLAI headquarters in Quito, Ecuador. The transfer to Cuba was to cover costs of food and lodging for the 400 delegates and other participants expected to attend the meeting in that nation.

"This is greatly disappointing to the member churches of CLAI and to the entire constituency of the World Council of Churches (WCC)," the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said on Thursday 13 December 2012, after learning of the decision by CLAI to postpone the assembly.

The WCC is a fellowship of 349 member churches from 120 countries around the globe, representing some 550 million Christians, and it counts many of the CLAI member churches among its own members.

"It is simply not acceptable that the US government through regulations of its banking system has decided to create these obstacles for a significant Christian body that cannot meet, whether it is in Cuba or elsewhere," Dr Tveit said.

"The United States has an obligation and has repeatedly expressed the commitment to uphold religious freedom. This is a case where the US government could easily have helped to avoid this embarrassing situation but has failed."

"This also shows that the decades old economic blockade of Cuba is out of touch with the realities in the world today, particularly in the faith-based communities, and should be ended for the sake of justice and peace," Dr Tveit added.

The freeze was reported on Thursday 27 November at a news conference in Havana, when the president of CLAI, Anglican Bishop Julio Murray from Panama, highlighted that the measure violates US federal law and rules of the US treasury department that enable the delivery and transfer of funds for religious purposes.

The money withheld, recalled Murray, belongs to churches and religious institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean and is intended for an evangelism event.

The president of the Cuban Council of Churches, the Rev Joel Ortega Dopico, lamented that the US, which calls itself an example of religious freedom, is engaged in such policies that are "ethically unacceptable".

Several voices from the ecumenical movement have been expressing their solidarity with the CLAI situation. In a formal statement issued on 3 December, the board of the Argentine Federation of Evangelical Churches (FAIE) declared that the blockage of the funds for the assembly “is taking from the churches in Latin America and the Caribbean the possibility to decide freely and ecumenically where and when their activities can take place”.

On 11 December, CLAI’s General Secretary,the Rev Nilton Giese, shared a letter with the membership and partner organisations formally announcing the decision of its board to postpone the event to May next year and keeping Havana as the host city of its 6th Assembly.

The CLAI meets in general assembly every six years on average, when it gathers delegates from 188 churches and ecclesial bodies of 20 countries in the region.

* Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI): http://www.claiweb.org/

* World Council of Churches members in Cuba: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/member-churches/regions/caribbean/cuba.html

[Ekk/3]

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