Mainline denominations, faith groups call on Biden to lift sanctions on Cuba   

Cuban Embassy
The Cuban national flag is seen raised over their new embassy in Washington, July 20, 2015. |

Nearly two dozen Christian denominations and faith groups have sent an open letter to President Joe Biden, calling on him to lift certain sanctions imposed on Cuba amid the ongoing protests against the communist regime.

Cuba has been rocked by multiple large-scale protests this summer centered on a mixture of issues, including poor economic conditions, human rights abuses committed by the communist regime in Havana, as well as the government's response to the pandemic.

Sent to the president last Wednesday, the letter specifically urges the Biden administration to lift restrictions on sending medical supplies and food, to re-staff the United States Embassy in Cuba, and to remove “all restrictions on banking and financial transactions related to humanitarian aid as well as restrictions on the percentage of U.S.-made material used in foreign-produced medical supplies that inhibit the purchase or distribution of humanitarian aid internationally.”

“Our partners in the Cuban churches — congregants, ministers, and their communities —  have expressed their distress concerning the severe shortages of basic medicines, food, and other vital materials amidst the COVID-19 battle,” stated the letter.

“As faith-based denominations, organizations and partners, many of whom have a long history of work on the ground in Cuba, we are writing to ask you to prioritize the well-being of the Cuban people, irrespective of political considerations,” it continued. 

While noting that the economic crisis in Cuba derives from “numerous factors,” the letter argued that “it is clear that the U.S. economic embargo — intensified by the Trump administration — is contributing to the worsening humanitarian situation the island is facing.”

“We believe your administration should take the necessary steps to remove all obstacles preventing families and communities in the U.S. from helping families in Cuba,” it continued.

Entities that have signed on to the letter include the Alliance of Baptists, Church World Service, the Cuba Partners Network of Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church, Friends Committee on National Legislation, The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, and The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

The drive of mainline denominations and other faith groups to have the U.S. end sanctions on Cuba has not been without its critics, among them Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

In a July piece regarding a different letter that had the support of the NCC and other mainline faith groups, Tooley asserted that the effort often ignores or downplays the repression of the Cuban government.

“The NCC, United Methodist and mainline Protestant agencies have for 50 years apologized for Cuba’s dictatorship. During the 1970s and 1980s mainline agencies were enmeshed in Liberation Theology and saw Castro’s revolution supposedly on behalf of the poor and oppressed as an expression of God’s Kingdom,” wrote Tooley last month.

“They hailed Cuba’s supposedly high quality free health care while ignoring Castro’s totalitarianism, which included persecution of religion, no free speech, and incarceration if not death for tens of thousands of dissenters, not to mention the poverty enforced by corrupt state ownership of property.”

As a contrast, Tooley pointed to a recent statement released by The Methodist Church in Cuba, which among other things, denounced “the repression exercised against the people who were protesting.”

“We declare that the people must have freedom of speech. The people’s voice must be heard when they claim for their rights,” stated the Cuba-based church.

“Cuba ought to be a free and sovereign country, where all their children are respected, both those who support the revolution, as those who do not sympathize with the sociopolitical system.”

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced an easing of sanctions on Cuba, ending various economic measures the U.S. had long taken against the communist island nation.

However, in 2017, these efforts on the part of the Obama administration were rolled back by President Donald Trump, who labeled them “terrible and misguided.”

“We will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer,” said Trump at the time. “We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.”

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