DOC and UCC leadership call on Congress and the President to change harmful Cuba policies

DOC and UCC leadership call on Congress and the President to change harmful Cuba policies

The General Minister and Presidents of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, Rev. Terri Hord Owens and Rev. John Dorhauer, have signed on to a letter expressing concern about harmful Cuba policies and calling on the Trump Administration to make a number of changes. Likewise, the Co-Executives of Global Ministries have signed on to a parallel letter calling on members of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 3960, the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act, and its Senate companion, S. 2303. Both bills have bipartisan support and 81 percent of Americans, 96 percent of Cubans, and 57 percent of Cuban Americans support lifting the travel ban. 

In the course of 2019, the Administration has implemented several new punitive regulatory changes that impose real hardships on the Cuban people and on families on both sides of the Florida Strait, while damaging the interests of both the American and the Cuban people. These include:

  1. Measures that limit non-family travel to Cuba, dramatically reducing the number of U.S. visitors and reducing hard currency income for both the public and the newly emergent private sector in Cuba.   
  2. Severe restrictions on remittances sent by U.S. citizens to family or friends in Cuba.  
  3. Decisions that deter foreign investment in Cuba, particularly the decision to allow the full implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.  
  4. Efforts to prevent oil shipments from Venezuela from reaching Cuban ports, causing energy shortages in Cuba.  

These measures come on top of last year’s decision to suspend consular services at the U.S. embassy in Havana. Now Cubans seeking to reunite with family members in the U.S., or obtain visas for travel or legal migration, are unable to do so unless they travel to a U.S. Embassy abroad—something that many Cubans simply cannot afford to do.

These letters reflect the continuity of our commitment with the people of Cuba and build upon resolution GA-1927 passed at the July 2019 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which called for ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba and promoting constructive relations between the two countries. 

The full text of the letter to the President:

November 21, 2019

Dear Mr. President, 

As leaders of national religious denominations and faith-based organizations in the United States with ties with Cuban religious communities and the Cuban people, we are writing to express our concerns about the harmful Cuba policies that your Administration has implemented.   These measures are causing real and visible hardships for the Cuban people and are unlikely to succeed in forcing changes by the Cuban government. The United States has had economic sanctions against Cuba in place since 1960 without positive benefit.  We urge you to seek a new path forward in our nation’s relationship with the Cuban people and government.

We have listened to the call of our partner faith communities in Cuba, with whom we have worked for many years in sister relationships and on humanitarian response. Uniformly and consistently, they have told us that the U.S. economic sanctions bring no benefits to the faith community in Cuba. In fact, sanctions make life more difficult for faith communities and the Cuban people more broadly. Our faith partners in Cuba would like a full normal relationship, in which they can visit and learn from us, and we can visit and learn from them. They recognize that our two governments have differences, and issues that must be resolved, and our partners are eager to see those issues discussed in the context of normal, respectful relations.

The recent measures adopted by your Administration are separating families, fueling a migration crisis, cutting off resources for the private sector, weakening the public economy that provides medical and social welfare programs to the population, and harming relationships between our two peoples, including people of faith.   We do not believe that imposing deep and painful costs on Cuba’s civilian population can be justified either morally or pragmatically.

We call on you, Mr. President, to use your executive authority to:

  • Restore the right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba as freely as the law will allow. Ending travel restrictions helps the U.S. economy and is in the interest of both the American and the Cuban people. In addition, 81 percent of Americans, 96 percent of Cubans, and 57 percent of Cuban Americans support lifting the travel ban.
  • Direct the Department of Treasury to eliminate restrictions on remittances. We appreciate the fact that remittances to religious groups, civil society actors and entrepreneurs have not been restricted.   But remittances are essential to Cuban families and other individuals, and the new limits on the number of remittances – capped at $1000 per quarter — and restrictions on who can receive them are harmful.
  • Suspend any further implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. We urge you to use the Presidential waiver provision to prohibit any further private lawsuits over property claims under Title III of the Helms-burton Act. Legitimate property claims should be settled through negotiations; permitting private lawsuits against third parties for their involvement in Cuba will, in the end, likely make it more difficult to settle U.S. property claims. In addition to the long-term damage to U.S. claims, the uncertainty introduced by these lawsuits may discourage foreign investment, and harm the Cuban people, putting people’s access to food supplies and other basic goods at risk.
  • Rescind the executive order that sanctions foreign companies that ship oil from Venezuela to Cuba. Efforts to block oil shipments can have severe disruptive effects on the Cuban population. Attempting to influence the Cuban government’s Venezuela policy by causing additional suffering for ordinary Cubans is neither a moral nor a wise course of action.
  • Re-staff the U.S. embassy in Havana and restore fully functioning consular services. The reduction in U.S. Embassy staff in Havana means that far fewer Cuban pastors and members of their congregations are able to travel to the U.S. and meet with their partner churches and communities. We understand the seriousness of the health concerns of Embassy personnel but hope that circumstances will permit normal visa processing to resume soon. In addition, we have an obligation to the Cuban people under the 1994 migration accord to provide 20,000 immigrant visas annually, an obligation we have failed to meet since the consular section was closed.
  • Direct the Department of State to resume the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission dialogues on issues like human rights, law enforcement, property claims, and migration. In your June 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba policy, you directed the U.S. government to continue engaging the Cuban government on issues that advance the interests of the United States and the Cuban people. The United States has a range of mutual interests with Cuba that directly benefit from engagement. Deepening security cooperation on issues such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, maritime safety, and environmental disasters serves the interest of both countries.

We note that religious freedom has expanded greatly in the past two decades, as the U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom has recognized. While there are issues to resolve, there is no question that faith communities in Cuba have the freedom to worship and are experiencing tremendous growth. We know from our partners in the faith communities in Cuba that the Cuban people overwhelmingly oppose the punitive approach being pursued today. Rather they want deeper ties with the United States. As religious membership and attendance in Cuba has grown over recent years, we feel a renewed urgency to end the embargo and move toward a more constructive relationship.

Engagement does not constitute an endorsement, as you yourself have recognized in other parts of the world. We believe a relaxation of recent sanctions against Cuba, combined with a renewed commitment to dialogue around issues of mutual interest, will ease some of the economic hardship currently faced by the Cuban people and create new opportunities for advancing legitimate American interests. We ask you to take this course of action because it is right both morally and pragmatically.

Please know that you and your Administration are in our prayers.

Yours sincerely,

Heads of U.S.-based denominations and national faith-based organizations, including the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)