U.S. RELIGIOUS LEADERS URGE PRESIDENT OBAMA TO OPEN GOOD-FAITH HIGH LEVEL DISCUSSIONS WITH CUBA

May 15, 2014 by

May 7, 2014

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As religious leaders in the United States, we are writing to you to express our hope that you will take bold executive action to improve the relationship between our nation and Cuba.

We welcome the changes to U.S.-Cuba policy that your administration made in 2011. And late last year we were delighted to hear you call for an update in U.S.-Cuba policy. You stated that we must continue to be thoughtful and creative in our approach to Cuba.

However, Mr. President, we have since been disappointed with the pace of change in U.S. policy. This issue has become more urgent with the recent hunger strike by imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross to highlight his plight and to urge high-level action by your administration to secure his release. With the support of our Cuban church partners, and in recognition of the vulnerable situation of Mr. Gross, we call upon you to enter into immediate good-faith discussions with the Cuban government at the highest levels. These discussions must take into consideration the concerns of the Cubans about U.S. policy, including the imprisonment of the remaining three members of the Cuban Five.

In addition, we firmly believe that programs such as the ZunZuneo (Cuban “twitter”) project are ineffective and misguided. Our faith partners in Cuba consistently tell us that positive engagement with the Cuban government is much more helpful to them and their congregations than covert actions.

The need for bold action to update our policy was underscored for us during a recent visit here in Washington, DC by six Cuban church leaders. For many years, U.S. and Cuban churches have worked with one another toward common goals. Our relationships have been strengthened as religious freedom in Cuba has improved and church membership has grown. Thus, we join our Cuban counterparts in urging your Administration to take major new steps toward pursuing a policy of engagement and normalization. Such a policy shift will benefit the churches and civil society in Cuba, in addition to going a long way in achieving the release of Alan Gross.

We urge you to:

Open up a high level dialogue between the United States and Cuba to address a wide range of issues, including the issue of Alan Gross and the Cuban Five.

Issue a general license to permit people-to-people travel in all categories.

Remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, an unnecessary irritant in an already tense relationship which undermines the credibility of the list itself and harms our relations with the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Open the opportunity for U.S. citizens to support the emerging small business and cooperative sector in Cuba by permitting U.S. citizens to buy from, sell to, or provide investment or technical assistance to Cuban small businesses and cooperatives.

We pray for the full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, while understanding that a Congressional vote to end the embargo is not likely in the near future. In the meantime we believe that these steps will benefit both the U.S. and Cuban peoples. We urge you to seize this moment of opportunity to improve relations between the United States and Cuba.

Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey

Director of Partnership Relations

Alliance of Baptists

 

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley

General Secretary

American Baptist Churches USA

 

Shan Cretin

General Secretary

American Friends Service Committee

 

Dr. Sharon E. Watkins

General Minister and President

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the

United States and Canada

 

Rev. Joel Boot

Executive Director

Christian Reformed Church in North

America

 

Stanley J. Noffsinger

General Secretary

Church of the Brethren

 

Rev. John McCullough

President and CEO

Church World Service

 

Very Rev. John Edmunds, ST

President

Conference of Major Superiors of Men

 

Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 

Diane Randall

Executive Secretary

Friends Committee on National Legislation

 

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth D. Miller

President, Provincial Elders’ Conference

Moravian Church Northern Province

 

Very Rev William Antone OMI

Missionary Oblates USP

 

Jim Winkler

General Secretary and President

National Council of Churches, USA

 

Rev. Gradye Parsons

Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Presbyterian Church (USA)

 

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black

General Minister and President

United Church of Christ

 

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner

President of the Council of Bishops

The United Methodist Church

 

 

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