Church groups renew objections to Cuba travel restrictions
May 30, 2006
The Rev. Robert Edgar
By United Methodist News Service*
The National Council of Churches and Church World Service have joined with other
organizations to renew objections to new U.S. government travel restrictions
“The current U.S. policy toward Cuba restricts religious freedom and
is contrary to the principles upon which our nation was founded,” said
the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the NCC staff executive for justice and advocacy,
during a May 25 news conference at the National Press Club.
“We reiterate our call on the U.S. government
to respect religious freedom and restore the less restrictive travel licenses
that we have had for decades.”
Last year, the NCC and CWS, along with the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries, American Baptist Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United
Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ Global Ministries, received notices from
the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets that their existing licenses for religious
travel to Cuba would not be renewed.
Instead, religious organizations have been offered very restricted licenses
that only allow up to four delegations annually with a limited number of participants
who have to be identified at the time of the license application.
|A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
About 700 worshipers fill the sanctuary of J.W. Branscomb Methodist Church in Holguin, Cuba, in 2002.
Churches often do not know at the time of license application which members
will request travel during the year and say it is unrealistic to place a four-trip
limit on denominational agencies representing millions of members.
The U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which recommended the travel
restrictions that were adopted by President Bush in May of 2004, is expected
to make new recommendations in the coming weeks when it issues its second report.
According to the Center for International Policy, the new recommendations will
likely be as restrictive as the previous ones, which virtually eliminated academic
exchanges between the United States and Cuba and severely limited travel by
Cuban Americans. The limitations have been particularly felt by Cuban families
with members in both countries.
“Dramatically limiting exchange between the U.S. and Cuba is more than
an annoyance, it is dangerously counterproductive,” said Joy Olson of
the Washington Office on Latin America, who also participated in the news conference.
When the new travel restrictions were first released
in 2004, the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist and the NCC’s chief executive, voiced his concern
in a statement. Increased engagement is needed in the U.S. relationship with
Cuba because it leads to “change, reform and the opening of society,” he
“We must do all we can to increase dialogue, not stifle it,” said
|A UMNS file photo courtesy of the Rev. H. Eddie Fox
Methodist evangelists traveled to Cuba in May 2001 for the Second
Congress on Evangelism for the Methodist Church at Camp Canaan.
In addition to the call for less restrictive travel licenses, the NCC expressed
concern about the actions taken by the current U.S. administration against
the Cuban Council of Churches.
In the past year, the State Department has adopted a policy to deny visas
for religious travel to the United States by officials of the Cuban Council
of Churches because it believes these officials are agents of the Cuban government.
However, the State Department has not provided additional information as evidence.
Martin Shupack, CWS Associate Director for Public
Policy, said this amounts to the U.S. government intruding in internal church
Cuban Council of Churches is the authentic ecumenical expression of Christians
Cuba and to interfere with that religious expression is wrong.”
The NCC and CWS have had an ecumenical relationship with the Cuban Conference
of Churches for more than 50 years. For church leaders, this relationship underscores
the biblical mandate for Christians to be in fellowship with one another.
“The foundation of our relationship with the Cuban Conference of Churches
is the fraternal bond of Christian love and fellowship that unite in one body
the universal church of Christ in the world,” said Girton-Mitchell. “We
call upon the U.S. government to respect religious freedom and refrain (from)
hindering sacred relationships within the body of Christ.”
*This story was provided by the National Council of Churches.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.