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1999 NCC News Archives

Fact-Finding Group Calls for an End to the Embargo of Cuba

March 16, 1999, HAVANA, Cuba  – The Racial Justice Working Group of the National Council of Churches completed its March 11-16 fact-finding mission to Cuba today resolved that the U.S. embargo and economic sanctions against Cuba be lifted.

"It was the unanimous opinion of our delegation," said Czerny Brasuell, the working group’s co-chair, "that the continuing imposition of the U.S. embargo and economic sanctions will not produce credible economic or political results. Certainly, on moral and humanitarian grounds, we believe that this policy primarily targets the elderly and children, not the Cuban government."

The fact-finding delegation included five clergy, two denominational representatives, several human rights activists, and lay people sent by their congregations.

One of the group’s goals was to learn more about religious practice and freedom in Cuba. Group members were the guests of the Martin Luther King Center, an interfaith facility and hub for cultural activities (especially for youth), education, worship, and dialogue.

Rev. Raul Suarez Ramos, Director of the Center, along with Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace in the United States, made arrangements for a heavy schedule of interviews and discussions while the group was in Havana. Rev. Ramos, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Center, is also an elected deputy to Cuba’s National Assembly.

The group met with the Cuban Council of Churches, representatives of the Afro-Cuban and Haitian communities, the President of the Cuban Parliament, and the director of North American affairs in the Foreign Ministry.

They spent considerable time touring the city and observing general living conditions. Lack of housing was one of their major concerns, and the embargo certainly plays a role in this shortage, they observed. There also was an opportunity to talk with members of congregations, workers and students. Three of the U.S. pastors were guest preachers at local churches on Sunday morning.

The most poignant testimony concerning the embargo, however, came in a visit to a children's hospital, where the delegation was briefed on the history of the Cuban Health Care System, and the present consequences because of a scarcity of very basic supplies, technology, lack of raw materials to produce their own medicines, and not having access to new drugs being developed in other countries.

The question and definition of human rights came up in several conversations, particularly with the "dissident" trial going on at that time. Comparisons were drawn to the number of political prisoners in the United States, some with very long sentences. Concern about the continued arms race and nuclear capacity of the U.S. was also raised.

"It is our belief," said Sammy Toineeta, Coordinator of the Racial Justice Working Group, "that it is in the interests of the people of both countries to end the embargo, and work towards mutual understanding and respect through dialog, cultural exchanges, and manifestations of faith. We will go back to our communities and appeal for the end of the embargo as a first step toward this goal."

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