On June 22, 2004, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches urged the Bush Administration to reconsider its decision to tighten the economic embargo against Fidel Castro’s communist government. The Rev. Bob Edgar said the embargo and other new measures would increase tension between the two nations, and hinder the U.S. churches’ effort to assist the Christians in Cuba.
“Churches in the U.S., as well as other faith-based organizations, have been working with the people of Cuba for many years, supporting education programs as well as work with the most vulnerable sectors of Cuban society,” wrote Edgar, in reference to the measure that curtailed educational visits.
In addition to the educational and economic embargos, the Bush administration restricted visits to Cuba, so as to minimize the trade between the two nations. The new regulations, which were printed on Wednesday, June 23, explicitly prohibited U.S. travelers from brining back any Cuban merchandise and receiving any gifts of goods or services from the communist government; previously, travelers were allowed to bring up to $100 worth of Cuban products for personal use.
“The Bush Administration claims that these measures will empower Cuban civil society and deny resources to the "Cuban dictatorship." We feel that they will actually deny much-needed assistance to the Cuban people, weaken Cuban civil society organizations, and lead to an increase of tension between the U.S. and Cuba,” wrote Edgar, as he listed the newly announced embargos.
The following is Dr. Edgar’s full letter to the Secretary of State Colin Powell:
June 22, 2004
Dear Secretary Powell:
As part of the faith community of the United States, we are deeply concerned over the newly announced actions of the U.S. Administration aimed at hastening the transition of government in Cuba. These measures delay once more any official dialogue between the U.S. and Cuban Governments, further restrict interaction between Americans and Cubans, and further limit contact among Cubans and Cuban exiles.
On the 6th of May, President George Bush accepted the recommendations from the report of the "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba," a group created by the Administration under your chairmanship. Basically it would appear that the Commission seeks to strengthen the failed policies of the past forty years. This is done through:
* A cut in family visits from one per year to one every three years
* Restrictions on remittances to family members
* A virtual end to educational travel
* Increased U.S. enforcement of existing travel restrictions, including more prosecutions of presumed transgressors
* Increased aid to dissidents in Cuba
* Illegal radio and television broadcasts from a U.S. C-130 military aircraft flying close to Cuban airspace
The Bush Administration claims that these measures will empower Cuban civil society and deny resources to the "Cuban dictatorship." We feel that they will actually deny much-needed assistance to the Cuban people, weaken Cuban civil society organizations, and lead to an increase of tension between the U.S. and Cuba. In fact, the announcement of these measures has already increased fear in Cuba of a possible U.S. military intervention.
Churches in the U.S., as well as other faith-based organizations, have been working with the people of Cuba for many years, supporting education programs as well as work with the most vulnerable sectors of Cuban society. We have seen an increased openness in Cuban society as the result of this kind of cooperation, along with the ongoing interchange that results from groups of U.S. citizens visiting Cuba on educational and humanitarian missions. This supports the view, which we share, that increased engagement leads to change, reform, and the opening of society.
As we have opposed the economic embargo against Cuba for many years on humanitarian as well as moral grounds, we must oppose these new measures. In addition, we have received a call from the Cuban Pastoral Forum, an ad hoc group made up of more than 200 pastors and priests in Cuba, asking the churches of the U.S. to seek to reverse these measures.
Along with the World Council of Churches, we are participating in the Decade to Overcome Violence. At a time when there is an increase of military activity around the world, with untold suffering and loss of life as a result, we must do all we can to reduce tensions, not increase them. Therefore, we call on the Administration to reconsider these measures and not only lift them, but lift the embargo and, as Congress has voted for the past several years, lift all travel restrictions to Cuba.
We must do all we can to increase dialogue, not stifle it.
Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary