US churches urge Obama to lift Cuba restrictions

By agency reporter
December 28, 2008

National Council of Churches USA General Secretary Michael Kinnamon has joined Church World Service Director John McCullough and more than a dozen other Christian leaders in asking President-Elect Barack Obama to ease travel restrictions to Cuba that have made it harder for religious delegations to visit or support church partners there.

United States religious institutions now qualify for only limited travel licenses, and some have been unable to obtain even those.

The group went a step further, urging the new Administration to lift the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans, restoring full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and ending a 46-year-old trade embargo.

“For decades the US policy toward Cuba has had unfortunate consequences for the Cuban people, while denying important freedoms to Americans,” the church leaders’ letter said. “It has failed significantly in its stated objective to precipitate change in the Cuban government.”

The faith leaders said hostility between governments has also disrupted historical bonds between churches in the US and Cuba, at a time when Cuban churches are growing rapidly and need support from their Christian counterparts in the US.

“We are convinced that it is time to change the ineffective and counter-productive US policy toward Cuba,” the letter said. “We urgently request you to change the Cuba policy of the United States in ways that will assist the churches in their work and benefit all Americans.”

Signers, in addition to Kinnamon and McCullough, included leaders from the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mennonite Central Committee, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ.

However, human rights groups say that there are still many freedom of expression problems to be confronted with the Cuban government, in spite of a thawing of relations with Catholics recently.

A prominent evangelical church leader in Cuba is reported to be facing trial next week as part of what his supporters call "a government campaign to silence and discredit him," because of his refusal to work with a state-backed church organization.

Bob Allen of Associated Baptist Press contributed to this story

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