Religious leaders urge direct talks between U.S., Cuba
Letter to Obama calls for greater dialogue, removal of “terrorism” label, further easing of travel restrictions
October 21, 2013
Twenty-one U.S. religious leaders ― including Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons ― today (Oct. 21) sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging “concrete action to pursue a path toward improved relations with Cuba.”
The letter backs a similar appeal from Cuban religious leaders to the president last May. A delegation from the Cuban Council of Churches ― led by its president, the Rev. Joel Dopico, pastor of Varadero Presbyterian Church and stated clerk of Matanzas Presbytery of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba ― will visit administration and congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. Nov. 20-21.
The letter to President Obama urges his administration to:
- “engage in direct, unrestricted, meaningful dialogue with the Cuban government between senior officials to discuss issues that concern both the United States and Cuba.”
- “remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”
- “lift all restrictions on people-to-people travel between the United States and Cuba.”
The letter does not mention the 50-year-old economic embargo of Cuba by the U.S. government. It simply states: “We pray for the full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.”
The full text of the Oct. 21 letter to President Obama and list of signers:
Dear Mr. President:
This May, Cuban religious leaders, in a letter to U.S.-based churches, expressed their hope for a swiftly implemented normalization of the relationship between the United States and Cuba. We, their U.S.-based colleagues, share their hope for a more fruitful, open relationship between Americans and our Cuban brothers and sisters. We believe now is the time for the United States to take concrete action to pursue a path toward improved relations with Cuba.
We are deeply grateful to you for issuing an executive directive in 2011 to lift restrictions for religious and academic travel to Cuba, and to allow licensed people-to-people cultural travel. Since then, we have strengthened our relationships with our church partners in Cuba. We have accompanied and supported them during this time of robust growth for Cuban churches, which has occurred alongside movement within Cuba to increase economic prosperity and political rights. We believe that an improved, more cooperative relationship between our nation and Cuba would benefit Cuban churches and help facilitate progress toward full political freedom and economic opportunity for the Cuban people.
For these reasons, we urge you to take the following actions this year:
Initiate direct, high-level dialogue with the Cuban government. We encourage your Administration to engage in direct, unrestricted, meaningful dialogue with the Cuban Government between senior officials to discuss issues that concern both the United States and Cuba. We laud the recent government-to-government talks about resuming direct mail service, as well as the re-start of migration talks between our two nations. We urge you to extend such talks, and move them to a new level, to include other topics of mutual concern, creating the potential for recognizing and supporting new political and economic openings in Cuba that will benefit the Cuban people. These high-level talks could help facilitate even greater dialogue and exchange of ideas between our peoples and create possibilities for increased engagement by all sectors of our societies.
Exercise your executive authority to remove Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism and must be taken off this list. Cuba’s placement on the list is widely recognized as inaccurate and dates to decades-old political dynamics that no longer exist. The most recent State Department report indicates that the Cuban government: provided no weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups, joined a regional group on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, and has distanced itself from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members living on the island. Furthermore, Cuba is sponsoring and hosting the Colombian-FARC guerrillas’ peace talks, collaborates with the United States in counter-drug efforts, and has made international commitments to combat terrorism. Cuba’s inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism undermines opportunities for the United States to use its influence to encourage continuing improvements in political freedom and human rights.
Exercise your executive authority to lift all restrictions on people-to-people travel between the United States and Cuba. Purposeful travel between the United States and Cuba creates and strengthens fruitful relationships between Americans and Cubans. Since your 2011 executive directive that eased restrictions on religious travel, our communities have a great deal of experience traveling under general license to Cuba for permitted purposes. At both the church-wide and local levels, our members can provide firsthand witness to the degree to which such relationship-building serves the common good of both nations and strengthens our common witness for peace, dignity and human rights. We have neither experienced nor observed any adverse consequences from this period of expanded relationship, and we strongly urge that the same opportunity be available to all residents of the United States.
We pray for the full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. We believe these three incremental steps will serve that end, while mutually benefitting our two peoples. Our church partners in Cuba are eager for meaningful ways to build relationships. We urge you to seize this moment of opportunity to improve relations between the United States and Cuba.
With blessings and peace,
Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
Shan Cretin, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Dr. Lester A. Myers, President, Center of Concern
The Rev. Joel Boot, Executive Director, Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Very Rev. John Edmunds ST, President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Sr. Janice McLaughlin, MM, President, Maryknoll Sisters
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Rev. Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Ecumenical Officer, United Methodist Church
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate, Armenian Orthodox Church
The Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Stanley J. Noffsinger, General Secretary, Church of the Brethren
The Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Sr. Margaret Magee, OSF, President, Franciscan Action Network
Peg Birk, Transitional General Secretary, National Council of Churches
Sr. Patricia Chappell, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
The Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, President, Progressive National Baptist Convention