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US churches urge Obama to hold dialogue with Cuba

22 May 2014

Churches in the United States, including member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC), have called on the Obama administration to open up a high-level dialogue with Cuba aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama, issued earlier in May, the US church leaders have urged the government to address issues related to the release of Alan Gross, a US citizen under arrest in Cuba, and the Cuban Five, serving sentences at federal prisons in the US.

“We join our Cuban counterparts in urging your Administration to take major new steps toward pursuing a policy of engagement and normalization,” said the church leaders.

“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,” reads the letter.

The church leaders also urged the Obama administration to permit people-to-people travel in all categories, remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and open the opportunity for US citizens to support the emerging small business and cooperative sector in Cuba.

“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,” the church leaders said.

The WCC has addressed the issue on several occasions. A recent statement issued by the WCC Executive Committee in 2013 condemned the “negative policies of the government of the United States towards Cuba, especially the economic sanctions imposed against the country, which constitute a threat to peace and a manifestation of a policy of interference in peoples’ right to self-determination.” Another resolution, adopted by the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, urged improved US-Cuba relations and lifting of economic sanctions

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, who has met with families of the Cuban Five on several occasions during the last few years, called on the US government to grant non-immigrant visas on a humanitarian basis for spouses who have not been able to visit their husbands since their imprisonment in 1998.

“Churches in the US and Cuba have worked together for many years in urging their governments to improve relations between the two countries,” Tveit said.

“Constructive dialogue, effective policies and compassionate, humane solutions to the cases of the Cuban Five would be significant in helping to normalize relations between the US and Cuba, something which will benefit people in both countries,” he added.

Director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Peter Prove, called this intervention by US church leaders “very much in the spirit of the ‘pilgrimage of justice and peace,’” a call from the WCC’s Busan assembly, in November 2013. “Dialogue and engagement are much more effective instruments for promoting justice and peace than isolation and confrontation,” he remarked.

Letter to President Barack Obama from churches in the United States

WCC statement on peace and security in Latin America

WCC resolution urging improved United States - Cuba relations and lifting of economic Sanctions

WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs

WCC member churches in the United States of America and Cuba