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Havana, Cuba. © Albin Hillert/WCC

Havana, Cuba. © Albin Hillert/WCC

Closer ties being forged between the United States of America and Cuba can help strengthen the hopes and material situation of people in the Caribbean nation, says the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.

“We welcome the concrete steps taken by the governments of the United States and of Cuba to overcome past divisions, and the support from international partners, including churches, that helped lead to this historic visit”, said Tveit, expressing joy at the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cuba between 20 and 22 March.

“We share and affirm the expectations of the people and churches of Cuba that this visit will further advance the improvement of Cubans’ economic and social situation, as well as offering a salutary witness of peace through dialogue and reconciliation”, said Tveit.

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic ties in July 2015 and the US relaxed travel and trade restrictions after a 54-year freeze.

Obama is only the second sitting US president to travel to the Cuban capital, and his visit is the first since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.  President Harry Truman visited the US-controlled Guantanamo Bay in 1948, and former President Jimmy Carter has visited Cuba several times since leaving office.

Prior to Obama’s arrival Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, president of the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC), issued an open letter welcoming and celebrating the visit.

“We believe that this visit can be beneficial, not only for both countries, but for the region and for the world, especially in the complex international context that we live in today”, reads the letter.

The head of the CIC noted that many of the Protestant and Evangelical churches in Cuba are heirs to the work of North American missionaries and churches.

“For many years we have formed a bridge of friendship, along with other Cubans and North Americans, in the search for a possible normalization of relations between both countries, praying and acting for the arrival of this new era”, wrote Dopico.

The CIC statement also notes that this visit follows other historic encounters hosted recently by the Cuban capital, including the Colombian peace talks and more recently the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

WCC member churches in Cuba

Resolution on the relations between the US and Cuba, adopted by the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan