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Appeal against the Second Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba

Letter to President George W. Bush

10 July 2006

Letter to H.E. George W. Bush, President of the United States, 10 July, 2006



Dear Mr President,

The Second Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba contains
a recommendation that US churches and ecumenical agencies should cease to provide
humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Cuban children, women and men
through the Cuban Council of Churches. This is a matter of serious concern for
us. According to an advance copy, the report recommends that the US Government
"[t]ighten regulations for the export of humanitarian items, other than agricultural
or medical commodities, to ensure that exports are consigned to entities
that support independent civil society and are not regime administered or controlled
organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches."

In my letter of June 2004 to the Cuban churches, issued after the meeting of the
Cuban Pastoral Forum, I regretted the implementation of the recommendations of
the First Report of the Commission, as these have tightened the economic embargo
and adversely affected the Cuban families in vulnerable situations. As I have expressed
several times, the economic embargo goes beyond an economic and political measure,
therefore from a humanitarian and ethical perspective, it should be lifted.

We are deeply concerned that the application of these affirmations by the US
Government will be a serious affront to the mission of the church. National councils
of churches and regional ecumenical organizations, whether in the United
States, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia or the Middle
East, have the responsibility to relate to their counterparts throughout the world
in pursuance of their common mission tasks.

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of 348 churches from over one
hundred countries around the world and has a constituency of more than 560 million
Christians. It has had a long history of relationship with the Cuban Council
of Churches.

Last year, I had the opportunity to pay a pastoral visit to Cuba to meet WCC
member churches in the country. I also visited the headquarters of the Cuban
Council of Churches and was able to witness its important work for promoting
Christian witness and service and working for human dignity in the country. During
my visit I clearly stated that all Cuban churches should receive equal treatment
from the state in order to meet the challenges of their pastoral ministry. Churches,
in particular the Protestant churches, are growing in Cuba. This growth entails
building of new churches and seminaries and access to the media in order to tackle
the pastoral challenges that arise in their service to the Cuban people.

Religious freedom would be threatened if the recommendation is followed
through by the US Government. It would also seriously burden the Christian
mission of our sister ecumenical bodies in the United States, the Church World
Service and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. And, in fact,
this US action jeopardizes all ecumenical Christian councils everywhere by setting
the precedent that governments can determine who the churches can relate
to as true Christian partners and who they cannot.

Ecumenical Christian bodies have a right to determine their ecumenical partners
and to engage with them internationally. We strongly feel that it is completely
inappropriate for the US Government, or any government, to determine
who is and who is not a legitimate national council of churches, and to restrict
or deny Christian fellowship and humanitarian assistance to any particular national
church council, including the Cuban Council of Churches.

In our judgment such an action would be a gross violation of religious freedom
and a remarkably aggressive interference in religious matters for which no
government has the right or the spiritual competence.

For these reasons we ask you to place no burden on the ability of US churches
and ecumenical organizations to engage in Christian fellowship and to provide
humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Cuban brothers and sisters through the
Cuban Council of Churches.

We pray God may guide your decisions and bless abundantly the American
people,

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General secretary