Religious Leaders Letter on Cuba to President Obama

May 7, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:

As religious leaders in the United States, we are writing to you to express our hope that you will take bold executive action to improve the relationship between our nation and Cuba.

We welcome the changes to U.S.-Cuba policy that your administration made in 2011. And late last year we were delighted to hear you call for an update in U.S.-Cuba policy. You stated that we must continue to be thoughtful and creative in our approach to Cuba.

However, Mr. President, we have since been disappointed with the pace of change in U.S. policy. This issue has become more urgent with the recent hunger strike by imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross to highlight his plight and to urge high-level action by your administration to secure his release. With the support of our Cuban church partners, and in recognition of the vulnerable situation of Mr. Gross, we call upon you to enter into immediate good-faith discussions with the Cuban government at the highest levels. These discussions must take into consideration the concerns of the Cubans about U.S. policy, including the imprisonment of the remaining three members of the Cuban Five.

In addition, we firmly believe that programs such as the ZunZuneo (Cuban “twitter”) project are ineffective and misguided. Our faith partners in Cuba consistently tell us that positive engagement with the Cuban government is much more helpful to them and their congregations than covert actions.

The need for bold action to update our policy was underscored for us during a recent visit here in Washington, DC by six Cuban church leaders. For many years, U.S. and Cuban churches have worked with one another toward common goals. Our relationships have been strengthened as religious freedom in Cuba has improved and church membership has grown. Thus, we join our Cuban counterparts in urging your Administration to take major new steps toward pursuing a policy of engagement and normalization. Such a policy shift will benefit the churches and civil society in Cuba, in addition to going a long way in achieving the release of Alan Gross.

We urge you to:

• Open up a high level dialogue between the United States and Cuba to address a wide range of issues, including the issue of Alan Gross and the Cuban Five.
• Issue a general license to permit people-to-people travel in all categories.
• Remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, an unnecessary irritant in an already tense relationship which undermines the credibility of the list itself and harms our relations with the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
• Open the opportunity for U.S. citizens to support the emerging small business and cooperative sector in Cuba by permitting U.S. citizens to buy from, sell to, or provide investment or technical assistance to Cuban small businesses and cooperatives.

We pray for the full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, while understanding that a Congressional vote to end the embargo is not likely in the near future. In the meantime we believe that these steps will benefit both the U.S. and Cuban peoples. We urge you to seize this moment of opportunity to improve relations between the United States and Cuba.

Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey
Director of Partnership Relations
Alliance of Baptists

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches USA

Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Rev. Joel Boot
Executive Director
Christian Reformed Church in North America

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Rev. John McCullough
President and CEO
Church World Service

Very Rev. John Edmunds, ST
President
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth D. Miller
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church Northern Province

Very Rev William Antone OMI
Missionary Oblates USP

Jim Winkler
General Secretary and President
National Council of Churches, USA

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner
President of the Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church