The Bush administration's tighter restrictions on travel between Cuba and the United States will only hinder U.S. churches' efforts to assist Christians in Cuba, said the Rev. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, in a June 22 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Edgar was protesting the enactment of a newer, more stringent U.S. policy toward Cuba, which took effect on June 1, that restricts Cuban-Americans' visits with family members in Cuba to once every three years, instead of once per year. Also, the definition of what constitutes "family" has been altered to exclude aunts, uncles and cousins—a move that many Cuban-Americans say is an affront to their cultural appreciation of extended family.
Contending that the new measures will "delay once more any official dialogue between the U.S. and Cuban governments, further restrict interaction between Americans and Cubans, and further limit contacts among Cubans and Cuban exiles," Edgar instead urged the United States to lift its long-held economic and travel restrictions.
"We must do all we can to increase dialogue, not stifle it," he wrote to Powell.
The Rev. Mari Castellanos, a Cuban- American minister who heads the UCC's Washington, D.C.-based Justice and Peace Action Network, said that, for her family, the tighter restrictions could not have come at a worse time. She and her sister have been trying to build relationships with three long-lost cousins in Cuba. "We have not had contact with them whatsoever since we left," she says.
"It's ridiculous," Castellanos said. "It's only prolonging the agony of the Cuban people on both sides. Obviously this administration does not remember that it was Gorbachev's Perestroika that caused the iron curtain to tumble. Let people taste freedom and opportunity.