Church Leaders Urge End to Cuba Travel Restrictions
Religious leaders in the United States and Cuba are hopeful that U.S.-imposed restrictions on religious travel and financial transfers soon will be eased by the Obama administration. In a Nov. 15-16 visit, a delegation of Cuban Protestant church leaders from the Cuban Council of Churches pressed their concerns about the inhibiting effects of the travel restrictions and financial transfers in meetings with officials of the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council. They also spoke at a briefing for members of Congress and their staff aides, hosted by Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Jim McGovern (D-MA). One objective of their meetings was to convince the Obama administration to remove severe U.S. restrictions on religious and other `people-to-people` travel, to Cuba. The tightened restrictions, in place since 2005, are an outgrowth of the Bush administration’s new interpretation and application of the U.S. Code governing travel. The Rev. Raul Suarez Ramos, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Havana, said that the long-standing historical relationship “was seriously impaired by the former administration because U.S. churches were given very limited ability to travel to Cuba and many Cuban religious leaders were not given visas to come to the United States.” Under the tightened restrictions national religious organizations like the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, and their member denominations, saw their eligibility for travel to Cuba reduced to no more than once per quarter each year, along with other limitations. According to Rev. Suarez, the situation has improved for Cuban church leaders to receive visas from the U.S. State Department to come to the United States, but “there are still many limitations.” Those limitations pose a significant problem, says the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of New York-headquartered Church World Service.