October 21, 2013

CWS, Faith Leaders Call for High-Level U.S.-Cuba Talks

WASHINGTON – The Rev. John L. McCullough, Church World Service president and CEO, is joining other Christian leaders in calling on President Barack Obama to initiate direct, high-level dialogue with the government of Cuba.

"We believe now is the time for the United States to take concrete action to pursue a path toward improved relations with Cuba," McCullough and leaders of Protestant and Orthodox communions, Roman Catholic organizations and ecumenical agencies said in a Oct. 21, 2013, letter to the 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," the leaders said. "We, their U.S.-based colleagues, share their hope for a more fruitful, open relationship between Americans and our Cuban brothers and sisters."

The faith leaders praised the president for an issuing a directive in 2011 to lift restrictions for religious and academic travel to Cuba, and to allow licensed people-to-people cultural travel. That move has strengthened relationships with church partners in Cuba, the leaders said, and parallels what they described as a "time of robust growth for Cuban churches, which has occurred alongside movement within Cuba to increase economic prosperity and political rights."

Specifically, McCullough of CWS and the other faith leaders are calling on President Obama to initiate direct, high-level dialogue with the Cuban government; remove Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism; and exercise his executive authority to lift all restrictions on purposeful people-to-people travel between the United States and Cuba.

On the issue of engaging the Cuban government, the faith leaders applauded recent U.S.-Cuban government-to-government talks about resuming direct mail service, as well as the re-start of migration talks.

"We urge you to extend such talks, and move them to a new level, to include other topics of mutual concern,” the leaders said. "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."

In calling for Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the faith leaders noted that "Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism . . . . [Its] placement on the list is widely recognized as inaccurate and dates to decades-old political dynamics that no longer exist."

On the topic of people-to-people travel, McCullough and the others said that, "Purposeful travel between the United States and Cuba creates and strengthens fruitful relationships between Americans and Cubans," adding that on 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."