Growing religious freedom and a vibrant religious community, as well as strong relationships between Cuban and U.S. churches, mean that the decades-long U.S. embargo against Cuba needs to end, Cuban and U.S. religious leaders told policymakers in Washington last month.
Organized by Church World Service with help from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW), the delegation included members of the Cuban Council of Churches and U.S. partners. The delegation was in Washington Feb. 26-28 to lobby the administration to “take steps that would improve the relationship (between the two countries) and help our people,” according to talking points from OPW.
These steps include increasing contact between Cubans and Americans by issuing more general licenses for people-to-people travel, allowing U.S. citizens to do business with Cuban small business and cooperatives, removing Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and opening up a high-level dialogue between the United States and Cuba to discuss differences.
“The objective of the trip was to work to identify how Cuban and North American churches can influence the relationships so that our countries can live in peace and have a constructive exchange as neighbors,” wrote Reinerio Arce, moderator of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, in an email to Presbyterian News Service.
The Cuban leaders spoke of the ways the embargo and travel restrictions hurt Cuban families, said Catherine Gordon, OPW’s associate for international issues. One leader told of a young man living in the United States who couldn’t travel back to Cuba to attend his mother’s funeral.
The restrictions isolate Cuban partners, Gordon said. Before the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba achieved automony in 1965, Cuban Presbyterian churches were part of the Synod of New Jersey of the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Thus, its church workers were part of the benefits plans of the Board of Pensions.
When the U.S. government imposed its economic embargo of Cuba shortly after the 1959 revolution, more than 50 Cuban pastors and their beneficiaries were blocked from receiving their pensions.
“In many ways, the members of our church have suffered the embargo the same way as the rest of the country, most of all in the health industry. Some of our hospitals have not been able to purchase necessary medications and medical equipment,” Arce wrote. “But, at the same time, we have particularly been affected by communication limitations with our brothers and sisters in the U.S.”
Despite the hardships of the embargo, the church in Cuba is flourishing, Arce wrote.
“It is an active, lively church that preaches the gospel and the good news about the Kingdom of God and that understands its mission to serve our country,” he wrote. “It is a lively, growing church.”
Gordon encouraged U.S. Presbyterians to get involved through education and advocacy.