Faith leaders, including the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have signed a letter to President Donald Trump expressing “deep concern” over new limitations on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and restrictions on sending remittances to Cuban citizens.
“The proposed restrictions will have a harmful impact on the churches, temples, and communities of faith with whom we partner in Cuba,” the letter states.
People of faith in the United States, including staff of national denominations, travel to Cuba regularly to engage with and support sister communities, according to the faith leaders who signed the letter. “We share with them in worship, offer our human solidarity, support their pastoral and social service programs, and learn from them in return,” the letter states. “Our visits, our moral support, and our financial assistance in many cases help sustain these faith communities and contribute to religious expression and religious liberty in Cuba.”
Whatever one’s views may be on U.S. policy toward Cuba, “we hope that all can agree that unrestricted religious travel is worthy of full support,” the letter states.
Last month, the Trump administration announced new restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, arguing that the policies of the Obama administration toward Cuba had enabled the Cuban colonization of Venezuela. That South American nation is led by Nicolás Maduro, and its allies also include Russia, China, Iran and Turkey.
In addition to President Trump, recipients of the letter include each member of Congress; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and John R. Bolton, the nation’s National Security Advisor.
Also this week, the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness issued an Action Alert, urging Presbyterians to encourage their representatives in Congress “to resist these restrictions on travel and communication and maintain the progress we have made towards a true global community.”
The Action Alert noted that through Twitter, Trump has threatened a “full and complete” embargo and “highest sanctions” against Cuba.
The text of the letter sent to the President by faith leaders is as follows:
Dear Mr. President:
As leaders of national faith communities and agencies we are deeply concerned about the measures recently announced by Trump Administration officials to place new limitations on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and to tighten restrictions on remittances to Cuban citizens. The proposed restrictions will have a harmful impact on the churches, temples, and communities of faith with whom we partner in Cuba.
Accordingly, we write to urge the retention of the current rules for religious travel under general license and for the ability to express support to Cuban religious organizations through remittances.
People of faith in the United States, including staff of national denominations and religious bodies faith-based agencies and members of local faith communities, travel to Cuba regularly to engage with and support sister communities. We share with them in worship, offer our human solidarity, support their pastoral and social service programs, and learn from them in return.
Our visits, our moral support, and our financial assistance in many cases help sustain these faith communities and contribute to religious expression and religious liberty in Cuba. Measures that would limit the ability of U.S. people of faith to visit with and support their colleagues and partners in Cuba will be detrimental to the wellbeing and growth of the religious sphere in Cuba. Our ability to worship, pray and witness with faith communities there is also an important expression of our own religious freedom.
Currently, there is a general license for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba to engage in a full-time program of religious activities (31 CFR 515.566), and persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction can provide remittances without restrictions to Cuban religious organizations (31 CFR 515. 570 [c]). These regulations allow for frequent and straightforward exchange with faith partners. We believe that these extensive connections have had a positive impact on the situation of the faith communities in Cuba. It is in the best interests and aspirations of the religious communities in Cuba and the United States to continue these policies.
We have already seen how difficult it is for our faith partners in Cuba to apply for visas to travel to the United States in order to speak to congregations and religious organizations here about their realities and needs in Cuba, given the suspension of consular services at the U.S. Embassy and the revision of the B2 visa to single entry, 30-day visas. Restrictions on religious travel by Americans will further isolate Cuban faith communities.
Whatever one’s views may be on U.S. policy toward Cuba, we hope that all can agree that unrestricted religious travel is worthy of full support. Cuban faith communities are flourishing and growing. Replacing the general license for religious travel with the requirement to apply for specific licenses will significantly reduce religious travel, deprive Cuban religious communities of important accompaniment and assistance, and could undermine the movement toward increasing religious freedom.
Thank you for your consideration of our request. We are available at your convenience to meet with you if we can be helpful in making even clearer the importance of robust religious exchange between U.S. and Cuba faith communities.
NSC Director Bolton
Members of Congress