What U.S. Presbyterians should learn from Latin American Christians: a conga line dancing down the aisles during worship.

What Latin American Christians should not have learned from U.S. Presbyterians: parliamentary procedure.

The Sixth Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) formally opened May 23 with Bible study and stirring worship that left participants forming a shimmering conga line as Latin American spirituals were sung.

But after moving to business, the Assembly immediately bogged down in parliamentary procedure that left it two hours behind the docket after just three hours. The inability for technical reasons to implement a planned electronic voting system slowed balloting on even simple matters, and the Assembly struggled throughout its first day to catch up.

Three hundred full and fraternal delegates are present for this Assembly, the first since 2007. The Assembly welcomed new “full” members: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico; Baptist Alliance of Brazil; Christian Mennonite Church of Colombia; and Evangelical United Church of Cuba-Lutheran Synod; and fraternal members: Social Services of the Dominican (Republic) Church; Memorial Center for Martin Luther King, Jr. (Cuba); Prophetic Program for Community Education and Formation (Cuba); Christian Medical Asociation of Nicaragua; Center for Biblical Studies (Cuba); and Christian Center for Dialogue and Reflection (Cuba).

Rejecting a recommendation from its Executive Committee, the Assembly retained the full membership of an indigenous church in Ecuador. CLAI’s bylaws state that member churches must be “officially” recognized by their countries, something the Ecuadorian church has not been able to attain. Leaders of the church argued that they are being stifled by the Ecuadorian government. One delegate remarked, “Who decides what is a church? Certainly not the government!”

Cuba’s director of religious affairs denounces “genocidal embargo”

The Assembly warmly received Caridad Diego Vello, Cuba’s director of the Office of Religious Affairs, who described the “transformation” of Cuba’s economy despite what she called the “genocidal U.S. blockade.”

Cuba has embarked on its transformation, Vello said, “so we can create a socialism that is more sustainable and prosperous.” Cuba already leads Latin America and much of the world in literacy rates, life expectancy, low infant mortality, educational levels and per capita doctor-to-population rates.

But the U.S. economic blockade ― now more than 50 years old and sustained by nine consecutive U.S. presidents ― has greatly hindered economic development in Cuba and has been condemned by virtually every international organization in the world, including the United Nations.

“There is no legitimate reason to continue this genocidal blockade under which 77 percent of Cubans have been born,” Vello said, citing a U.S. State Department memo from 1960 that she said states that “they (the U.S. government wants to wear us down, deny us funds and supplies to provoke hunger and despair and bring down our government. 

To those who say the Cuban government is “bluffing” to disguise the failures of its socialist economic system and policies, Vello said (to loud applause): “Lift the blockade and let’s see.”

Recent reforms ― most initiated by President Raul Castro after he succeeded his brother Fidel three years ago ― include private property ownership, encouragement of private business with government start-up loans, land reform in which individual farmers are given land if they agree to live and farm on it, and a just-introduced system of taxation to support government services in education, healthcare and infrastructure.

Before the 1959 revolution, 85 percent of Cuba’s trade was with the U.S. After the blockade was imposed, that trade shifted to the former Soviet bloc countries. Now, with the Soviet Union’s collapse in the late-1980s, Vello said, “We have had to find new markets and rely on self-sustainability. We aspire to a socialism that is sustainable and that depends on our efficiencies and creativity.”

She praised CLAI for its efforts “to create the bonds that unite us as people, churches and states regardless of the peculiarities and differences that separate us.”