|Lack of license limits UMCOR response in Cuba|
Survivors walk down a rubble-filled alley in
Holguin, Cuba, after Hurricane Ike struck the island on Sept. 9. A UMNS
Web-only photo courtesy of the Rev. Ivelis Matthews.
By Linda Bloom*
Sept. 11, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
United Methodists are expressing frustration over not being able to
provide disaster relief to Cubans hit hard by the 2008 hurricane season.
MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus within The United Methodist
Church, is calling upon the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
"to provide funding as soon as possible to the Methodist Church in Cuba
so that it can continue and expand its ministry of relief and
humanitarian aid to the victims of these hurricanes."
The caucus’s Sept. 9 statement, signed by MARCHA president Raúl
Alegría and Bishop Elías Galván, interim executive director, also asked
all church members to pray for the Cuban church, Cuban people and those
in other Caribbean countries affected by recent hurricanes and tropical
In a statement issued on the same day, the Board of Global Ministries
explained why the mission agency, which oversees the United Methodist
Committee on Relief, has not been able to respond to two monster
hurricanes in Cuba.
"In 2006, the federal government failed to renew the license of the
General Board of Global Ministries … to send funds into Cuba for
ministries of various kinds. Many other denominations have also lost
their licenses," the statement said.
Efforts to provide U.S. aid to Cuba are complicated by a half-century
standoff between the two countries, which includes a broad U.S. trade
MARCHA noted that both the denomination as a whole and the caucus itself has repeatedly called for an end to the trade embargo.
"At this time when Cuba has suffered heavily due to these hurricanes,
when many thousands of people urgently need humanitarian aid, and when
many of our Methodist church buildings have been destroyed, we
clearly need a change in this U.S. policy, even if on a temporary basis
to respond to the emergency," the caucus said.
MARCHA called upon the U.S. government to quickly grant licenses to
allow religious and other humanitarian organizations to provide aid in
Cuba and to allow Cuban-American families to send money to their
families in Cuba beyond the currently allowed $300 a quarter.
The caucus also applauded action taken by the Methodist Church of
Puerto Rico to pray and raise funds to support the Methodist Church in
Gustav hit western Cuba with winds of 150 mph on Aug. 30, damaging or
destroying 100,000 houses and crippling the nation's agricultural
industry and infrastructure. Hurricane Ike followed on Sept. 9, damaging
200,000 homes and dumping heavy rains on storm-ravaged tobacco and sugar cane crops. At least five people were killed.
"At this time when Cuba has suffered
heavily due to these hurricanes, when many thousands of people urgently
need humanitarian aid, … we clearly need a change in this U.S. policy." –MARCHA
Despite the widespread need, UMCOR is "stymied in its ability to act"
in Cuba, according to the Rev. Sam Dixon, the agency’s top executive.
Continued attempts to restore the license have been unsuccessful.
"Without the license, UMCOR/GBGM is not legally permitted to send
money directly or indirectly through a third party into Cuba," Dixon
said in an e-mail message. "Violation of this license carries severe
consequences for UMCOR/GBGM as well as the denomination."
The Board of Global Ministries is allowed to send volunteer teams
into Cuba to work with the church there, and the first team sponsored
through the board’s Mission Volunteers is expected to arrive on Sept.
19. Legally, however, UMCOR cannot send funds with those teams, Dixon
Church World Service, a U.S.-based ecumenical humanitarian agency, is
permitted to send modest amounts of school kits and blankets into Cuba.
Action by Churches Together International, the international faith-based
disaster response organization to which both CWS and UMCOR belong, is
gathering financial support for member organizations that can legally
work in Cuba. "UMCOR may not legally support either effort or similar
efforts by other partner agencies." Dixon said.
The Rev. Sam Dixon
A Sept. 9 news release from the U.S. State Department announced that,
in response to Hurricane Gustav, the government had "increased existing
authorizations for U.S.-based NGOs to provide larger amounts of
humanitarian assistance, including in the form of cash donations, to
help address the basic needs of the Cuban people."
Because of the reference to "existing authorizations" and the
direction in the release for donations to be sent "to reputable
humanitarian assistance organizations that are licensed to send
humanitarian aid to Cuba," Dixon was not optimistic about the
possibility of UMCOR receiving a limited license.
"We at UMCOR/GBGM are deeply troubled by our inability to respond to
the needs of the people of Cuba," Dixon said. "The mandate from the
denomination under which we operate and our deeply held desire to serve
those in need make this a very difficult experience for us. Our prayers
are with the Methodist Church as it seeks to minister to those in need
and to all who are in need this day."
Methodists in Cuba are providing some relief but are severely limited
financially. Reports on this work of the Methodist Church of Cuba can
be found in Spanish and English on the church’s Web site.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Damages of the hurricane in our churches
Church leaders visit Capitol Hill over Cuba travel
Cuban Methodists thrive but feel effects of embargo
Church World Service decries aid restrictions
Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Committee on Relief
Methodist Church in Cuba (Spanish)
Cuban Church report in English
Church World Service