NCC, CWS, protest Cuba travel restrictions
26, 2006, Washington, D.C.
– The National
Council of Churches and Church World Service joined with other
organizations to renew objections to new government
travel restrictions to Cuba in a news conference at the
National Press Club here Thursday.
"The current U.S. policy toward Cuba restricts religious freedom and is
contrary to the principles upon which our nation was founded," said NCC's
Associate General Secretary for Justice and Advocacy Rev. Brenda
Girton-Mitchell, who spoke at the news conference.
"We reiterate our call on the U.S. Government
to respect religious freedom and restore the less restrictive travel
licenses that we have had for decades."
Last year, the NCC and Church World Service along with several member
denominations, including the American Baptist Churches, Presbyterian
Church (USA), the General Board of Global Ministries of the United
Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ
Global Ministries, received notices from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets
that their existing licenses for religious travel to Cuba would not be
Instead, religious organizations have been offered very restricted
licenses that only allow up to four delegations annually with a limited
number of participants who have to be identified at the time of the
license application. Churches often do not know at the time of license
application which church members will request travel during the year and
say it is unrealistic to place a four-trip limit on denominational
agencies representing millions of members.
The U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which recommended the
travel restrictions that were adopted by President Bush in May of 2004, is
expected to make new recommendations in the coming weeks when it issues
its second report.
According to the Center for International
Policy, the new recommendations are likely to be as unrealistic as the
previous ones which virtually eliminated academic exchanges between the
U.S. and Cuba, and severely limited travel by Cuban Americans causing
further suffering to Cuban families in addition to the restrictions on
Joy Olson of the Washington Office on Latin America, who also participated
in Thursday's news conference, said, "Dramatically limiting exchange
between the U.S. and Cuba is more than an annoyance, it is dangerously
In a statement issued by NCC General Secretary Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar in 2004
when the new travel restrictions were first released, increased engagement
is needed in the U.S. relationship with Cuba because it leads to "change,
reform and the opening of society."
"We must do all we can to increase dialogue, not stifle it," said Edgar.
In addition to the call for less restrictive travel licenses, the NCC also
expressed concern about the actions taken by the current U.S.
Administration against the Cuban Council of Churches.
In the past year the State Department has
adopted a policy to deny visas for religious travel to the U.S. by
officials of the Cuban Council of Churches because they believe these
officials are agents of the Cuban government. However, they have not
provided any evidence for this assertion.
Martin Shupack, Church World Service's Associate Director for Public
Policy, said this amounts to the U.S. government intruding in internal
church affairs. "The Cuban Council of Churches is the authentic ecumenical
expression of Christians in Cuba and to interfere with that religious
expression is wrong."
The National Council of Churches and Church World Service have had an
ecumenical relationship with the Cuban Conference of Churches for more
than 50 years. For church leaders this relationship underscores the
biblical mandate for Christians to be in fellowship with one another.
"The foundation of our relationship with the Cuban Conference of Churches
is the fraternal bond of Christian love and fellowship that unite in one
body the universal church of Christ in the world," said Girton-Mitchell.
"We call upon the U.S. government to respect religious freedom and refrain
hindering sacred relationships within the body of Christ."
NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252.