The National Council of Churches (NCC) of the United States recognized the religious freedom existing in Cuba, and criticized the government of Donald Trump for blacklisting Cuba for serious violations on that matter.
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi, NCC President Jim Winkler called to remove Cuba from the list of countries that, according to Washington, have committed or tolerated ‘serious violations of religious freedom’.
‘I write to you representing the 38 member churches of the National Council of Churches USA, which in turn collectively represent 40 million Christians in the United States,’ Winkler said in the letter, dated on July 24.
‘The reason for my letter is to express concern that Cuba has been and continues to be listed on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Special Watch List,’ the NCC president said.
When highlighting that the relationship between US and Cuban Christians goes back decades, the religious leader pointed out that, in that time, exchanges have taken place at every level of church life, in particular through the visits of high-level church delegations.
‘I myself, like at least two of my predecessors, have witnessed first-hand the freedom by which Cubans are allowed to express their faith. Over these years, we have built a relationship of trust, and based on this trust we know that what we have seen with our own eyes is a genuine faith and robust church life,’ he stated.
Winkler noted, ‘Certainly, there are challenges in Cuba, as there are in every country – what country is exempt from such challenges? – but it cannot be denied that much social progress has been made over these same decades.’
He described as extremely positive for the two countries the steps taken during the Barack Obama administration (2009-2017), including the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana, the joint work by the two governments to address differences, the opening of trade, and the increase in visits of ordinary people.
‘Unfortunately, through such actions as the listing of Cuba on the Special Watch List these positive trends have been needlessly set back,’ he said.
‘Religious freedom exists in Cuba, and this action by our government reflects an unfortunate denial of this reality, and only reinforces worsening trends in the relations between our two countries,’ he regretted.
According to Winkler, the Cuban Council of Churches is composed of some 50 member churches from across the spectrum of Christian traditions. Its programs and services benefit perhaps up to one million Christians in Cuba. ‘Without religious freedom, such an organization and its member churches’ social, humanitarian, and pastoral ministries could not exist.’