Written by Anthony Moujaes
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, joined other Christian leaders in calling on the United States government to initiate direct dialogue with the Cuban government. Their reasoning — to establish a relationship with their Cuban brothers and sisters, since U.S.-Cuba relations have improved in the last half-century.
Black was one of 21 denominational leaders signing a letter to President Barack Obama, which was organized by Church World Services. The Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), was also one of the letter’s signatories.
The effort is part of the UCC’s work by Justice and Witness Ministries and Global Ministries — the shared ministry between the UCC and Disciples of Christ — to further relationships with Cuban churches. Cuban religious leaders will visit Washington, D.C., the week of Nov. 11 to highlight the need to develop U.S.-Cuba relations with government representatives on Capitol Hill. The Latin America office of Global Ministries is sponsoring the visit of the Rev. Rhode Gonzalez of the Christian Pentecostal church in Cuba.
"This May, Cuban religious leaders, in a letter to U.S.-based churches, expressed their hope for a swiftly implemented normalization of the relationship between the United States and Cuba," the leaders said. "We, their U.S.-based colleagues, share their hope for a more fruitful, open relationship between Americans and our Cuban brothers and sisters."
The U.S. faith leaders praised the president for his decision in 2011 to lift restrictions on religious and academic travel to Cuba, and to allow licensed people-to-people cultural travel. That move has strengthened relationships with church partners in Cuba, the leaders said, and mirrors what they described as a "time of robust growth for Cuban churches, which has occurred alongside movement within Cuba to increase economic prosperity and political rights."
Black and other faith leaders are calling on President Obama to initiate direct, high-level dialogue with the Cuban government to remove Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism. In calling for Cuba’s removal from the list, the faith leaders noted that "Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism . . . . [Its] placement on the list is widely recognized as inaccurate and dates to decades-old political dynamics that no longer exist."
The full text of the letter reads as follows:
Dear Mr. President:
This May, Cuban religious leaders, in a letter to U.S.-based churches, expressed their hope for a swiftly implemented normalization of the relationship between the United States and Cuba. We, their U.S.-based colleagues, share their hope for a more fruitful, open relationship between Americans and our Cuban brothers and sisters. We believe now is the time for the United States to take concrete action to pursue a path toward improved relations with Cuba.
We are deeply grateful to you for issuing an executive directive in 2011 to lift restrictions for religious and academic travel to Cuba, and to allow licensed people-to-people cultural travel. Since then, we have strengthened our relationships with our church partners in Cuba. We have accompanied and supported them during this time of robust growth for Cuban churches, which has occurred alongside movement within Cuba to increase economic prosperity and political rights. We believe that an improved, more cooperative relationship between our nation and Cuba would benefit Cuban churches and help facilitate progress toward full political freedom and economic opportunity for the Cuban people.
For these reasons, we urge you to take the following actions this year:
Initiate direct, high-level dialogue with the Cuban government. We encourage your Administration to engage in direct, unrestricted, meaningful dialogue with the Cuban Government between senior officials to discuss issues that concern both the United States and Cuba. We laud the recent government-to-government talks about resuming direct mail service, as well as the re-start of migration talks between our two nations. We urge you to extend such talks, and move them to a new level, to include other topics of mutual concern, creating the potential for recognizing and supporting new political and economic openings in Cuba that will benefit the Cuban people. These high-level talks could help facilitate even greater dialogue and exchange of ideas between our peoples and create possibilities for increased engagement by all sectors of our societies.
Exercise your executive authority to remove Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism and must be taken off this list. Cuba’s placement on the list is widely recognized as inaccurate and dates to decades-old political dynamics that no longer exist. The most recent State Department report indicates that the Cuban government: provided no weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups, joined a regional group on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, and has distanced itself from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members living on the island. Furthermore, Cuba is sponsoring and hosting the Colombian-FARC guerrillas’ peace talks, collaborates with the United States in counter-drug efforts, and has made international commitments to combat terrorism. Cuba’s inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism undermines opportunities for the United States to use its influence to encourage continuing improvements in political freedom and human rights.
Exercise your executive authority to lift all restrictions on people-to-people travel between the United States and Cuba. Purposeful travel between the United States and Cuba creates and strengthens fruitful relationships between Americans and Cubans. Since your 2011 executive directive that eased restrictions on religious travel, our communities have a great deal of experience traveling under general license to Cuba for permitted purposes. At both the church-wide and local levels, our members can provide firsthand witness to the degree to which such relationship-building serves the common good of both nations and strengthens our common witness for peace, dignity and human rights. We have neither experienced nor observed any adverse consequences from this period of expanded relationship, and we strongly urge that the same opportunity be available to all residents of the United States.
We pray for the full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. We believe these three incremental steps will serve that end, while mutually benefitting our two peoples. Our church partners in Cuba are eager for meaningful ways to build relationships. We urge you to seize this moment of opportunity to improve relations between the United States and Cuba.