Faith‐based organizations call for improved U.S.‐ Cuba relations

Letter sent by Faith‐based organizations to the Congress of the United States

November 21, 2019

Dear Member of Congress:

As religious denominations and faith‐based organizations in the United States with ties with Cuban religious communities and the Cuban people, we are writing to express our concerns about the harmful Cuba policies that the Trump Administration has implemented.   These measures are causing real and visible hardships for the Cuban people. Our faith and humanitarian commitment convince us that the suffering imposed on Cuban citizens by these policies is not an acceptable way to bring change in the policies of the Cuban government. We ask you to convey our concerns to the White House and State Department.

We especially request that you co‐sponsor H.R. 3960, the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba act, and its Senate companion, S. 2303.   Both bills have bipartisan support.  Ending travel restrictions is in the U.S. national interest, it helps U.S. economy, and the Cuban people. In addition, 81 percent of Americans, 96 percent of Cubans, and 57 percent of Cuban Americans support lifting the travel ban. 

We have listened to the call of our partner faith communities in Cuba, with whom we have worked for many years on humanitarian issues, on disaster response, and in sister relationships. Uniformly and consistently, they have told us that the U.S. economic sanctions bring no benefits to the faith community in Cuba. In fact, sanctions make life more difficult for faith communities and the Cuban people more broadly. Our faith partners in Cuba would like a full normal relationship, in which they can visit and learn from us, and we can visit and learn from them. They recognize that our two governments have differences, and issues that must be resolved, and our partners are eager to see those issues discussed in the context of normal, respectful relations. 

In the course of 2019 the Administration has implemented several new punitive regulatory changes that impose real hardships on  the Cuban people and on families on both sides of the Florida Strait, while damaging the interests of both the American and the Cuban people..   These include:

  1. Measures that limit nonfamily travel to Cuba, dramatically reducing the number of U.S. visitors and reducing hard currency income for both the public and the newly emergent private sector in Cuba.    
  2. Severe restrictions on remittances sent by U.S. citizens to family or friends in Cuba.   
  3. Decisions that deter foreign investment in Cuba, particularly the decision to allow the full implementation of Title III of the HelmsBurton Act.   
  4. Efforts to prevent oil shipments from Venezuela from reaching Cuban ports, causing energy shortages in Cuba.   

These measures come on top of last year’s decision to suspend consular services at the U.S. embassy in Havana.  Now Cubans seeking to re‐unite with family members in the U.S., or obtain visas for travel or legal migration, are unable to do so unless they travel to a U.S. Embassy abroad—something that many Cubans simply cannot afford to do.  

Taken together, these measures continue to separate families, fueling a migration crisis, weakening the public economy that provides medical and social welfare programs to the population, cutting off resources for the new private sector, and harming relationships between our two peoples, including people of faith.   We question whether it is appropriate to compel Cuba to change its foreign policy by such economic coercion that harms the general public as much or more than it harms the government.  We do not believe that imposing deep and painful costs on Cuba’s civilian population can be justified either morally or pragmatically.

We ask you to take steps to help repair this damaged relationship.

Most immediately, and importantly, we ask you to co‐sponsor H.R. 3960, the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba act, and its Senate companion, S. 2303.   Both bills have bipartisan support.  Ending travel restrictions helps the U.S. economy and is in the interest of both the American and the Cuban people. 

Beyond that, we hope you will convey to the White House that it should: 

  • Eliminate restrictions on remittances.  We appreciate the fact that remittances to religious groups, civil society actors and entrepreneurs have not been restricted.   But remittances are essential to Cuban families and other individuals, and limits on the amount of remittances, and restrictions on who can receive them are harmful.  
  • Suspend any further implementation of Title III of the HelmsBurton Act. We urge you to use the Presidential waiver provision to prohibit any further private lawsuits over property claims under Title III of the Helms‐burton Act.  Legitimate property claims should be settled through negotiations; permitting private lawsuits against third parties for their involvement in Cuba will, in the end, likely make it more difficult to settle U.S. property claims.   In addition to the long‐term damage to U.S. claims, the uncertainty introduced by these lawsuits may discourage foreign investment, and harm the Cuban the Cuban people, putting people’s access to food supplies and other basic goods at risk. 
  • Rescind the executive order that sanctions foreign companies that ship oil from Venezuela to Cuba.  Efforts to block oil shipments can have severe disruptive effects on the Cuban population.   Attempting to influence the Cuban government’s Venezuela policy by causing additional suffering for ordinary Cubans is neither a moral nor wise course of action. 
  • Restaff the U.S. embassy in Havana and restore fully functioning consular services. The reduction in U.S. Embassy staff in Havana means that far fewer Cuban pastors and members of their congregations are able to travel to the U.S. and meet with their partner churches and communities. We understand the seriousness of the health threats to Embassy personnel but hope that circumstances will permit normal visa processing to resume soon. In addition, we have an obligation to the Cuban people under the 1994 migration accord to provide 20,000 immigrant visas annually, an obligation we have failed to meet since the consular section was closed.

    

  • Direct the Department of State to resume the U.S.Cuba Bilateral Commission dialogues on issues like human rights, law enforcement, property claims, and migration. In the Administration’s June 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba policy, it directed the U.S. government to continue engaging the Cuban government on issues that advance the interests of the United States and the Cuban people. The United States has a range of mutual interests with Cuba that directly benefit from engagement. Deepening security cooperation on issues such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, maritime safety, and environmental disasters serves the interest of both countries. 

Religious freedom has expanded greatly in the past two decades, as the State Department’s annual report on religious freedom has recognized.  While there are issues to resolve, there is no question that faith communities in Cuba have the freedom to worship and are experiencing tremendous growth. We know from our partners in the faith communities in Cuba that the Cuban people overwhelmingly oppose the punitive approach being pursued today; rather they support a new relationship and want deeper ties with the United States.  As religious membership and attendance in Cuba has grown over recent years, we feel a renewed urgency to end the embargo and move toward full normalization of the U.S.Cuba relationship. 

Engagement with Cuba does not constitute an endorsement of all its policies; it responds to the humanitarian concerns that our partner churches in Cuba have raised with us.   We believe a relaxation of recent sanctions against Cuba, combined with a renewed commitment to dialogue around issues of mutual interest, will ease some of the economic hardship currently faced by the Cuban people and create new opportunities for advancing the interests of the American and Cuban people. We ask you to take this course of action because it is right, both morally and pragmatically. 

Yours sincerely,

Alliance of Baptists

American Friends Service Committee

Church World Service

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Latin America Working Group

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Missionary Oblates

National Council of Churches

Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church 

Presbyterian Church (USA)

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society

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