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US bishop reiterates call to end Cuba embargo; gets support in Miami

Posted By April 20, 2012 | 6:31 pm | National
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) -- The relaxation of some travel restrictions to Cuba last year has already had positive effects, but the U.S. needs to go all the way and lift its economic embargo, according to the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace. That would be a valuable step, agreed Florida Catholics who follow the situation in that country, though some said Cuba itself has to make more major changes, too. Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the committee, said in an April 17 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the modified policies "have given but a taste of what truly should happen for the sake of the people of both countries. It is imperative that more must be done to support deepened dialogue and communication between our respective countries."

By Tom Tracy
Catholic News Service
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — The relaxation of some travel restrictions to Cuba last year has already had positive effects, but the U.S. needs to go all the way and lift its economic embargo, according to the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
That would be a valuable step, agreed Florida Catholics who follow the situation in that country, though some said Cuba itself has to make more major changes, too.
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the committee, said in an April 17 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the modified policies “have given but a taste of what truly should happen for the sake of the people of both countries. It is imperative that more must be done to support deepened dialogue and communication between our respective countries.”
Such communication holds promise of fostering human rights and other positive changes in Cuba, wrote Bishop Pates.
He explained that he visited Cuba in March for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and learned how complicated it is for the church’s social aid organizations to function because of the trade embargo. He noted that the staff of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana told him Catholic charitable organizations are advancing a more free and humane society.
“To do this work well, these organizations must not be encumbered by outdated policies that only harm the most vulnerable people,” he wrote. “All restrictions should be systematically examined and eliminated so that the complete abolition of the embargo and its harmful effects can be achieved. These burdens are not borne by the members of the Cuban governing elite, but rather by the ‘ordinary’ Cuban and especially by the weakest members of that society.”
Bishop Pates’ proposal is a much-needed policy change that can only provide hope for a long suffering people, according to Bill Brown, a member of St. Timothy Parish in Miami, who traveled to see Pope Benedict in Cuba.
Brown, who has a long involvement with the charismatic renewal and is a Florida regional director for Covenant Communities, a lay association in Miami, said he attended a small group prayer gathering while in Cuba and found his way to his childhood home on the outskirts of Havana’s western suburbs.
“The present policy has only provided an entrenchment by the oppressive government and distanced the Cuban population from other societies while despair, hopelessness and living under rampant oppression became normal,” Brown said. “I came back from Cuba convinced that a change as proposed by our bishops is the way to move forward.”
Sister Ondina Cortes, a Religious of Mary Immaculate at the School of Theology and Ministry at St. Thomas University, has been involved in reconciliation work between Catholics in Cuba and in Miami.
After 50 years, the embargo has proven to be ineffective as a political strategy, and is unethical, she said.
“The church here and there needs to keep calling for changes not only in U.S. policy, but on Cuban policy; they refuse to change,” she said. “I do not believe that the material hardships suffered by the Cuban people are only the result of the embargo as the government propaganda makes everyone believe.”
“I believe the main causes of the economic situation there is poor management, corruption, use of resources for militarization and foreign propaganda,” she added. “Greed of the leadership, lack of incentives and all the industry is government-owned.”
Msgr. Franklyn Casale, president of St. Thomas University, who provided commentary on the pope’s Cuba trip for a Miami television station, noted that some of the pope’s strongest words while in Cuba were about how that country “has to change and the world has to change and everybody has to take a fresh look at the situation,” the priest told Catholic News Service.
“Getting rid of the embargo is not a magic solution because things have to change in Cuba,” he said. “It is not just the United States that is depriving the people of Cuba.”
The U.S. bishops over the decades have expressed their view that the embargo should end. The Cuban bishops have likewise long maintained it is hurting the most vulnerable people their country.
“Whether the embargo has been effective or not effective is not something I have an opinion on,” Msgr. Casale said. “But I know that it has not been helpful to the church and educational institutes by prohibiting them from importing educational, medical and charitable items they need.”
Bishop Pate’s letter said the church in both countries “has long maintained that greater, rather than less, engagement with Cuban can bring about positive change in that country.
“The call of the church in Cuba has always been one for dialogue: genuine and open dialogue within Cuba and dialogue between Cuba and the outside world, which, apart from the United States, exists today,” he wrote. The U.S. bishops continue to call for purposeful engagement rather than ineffective isolation.
He concluded by saying the bishops “hope and pray for prompt and appropriate measures to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba and to withdraw all restriction on travel to Cuba and to offer greater people-to-people assistance to the Cuban people.”
“In so doing,” he said, “we will be supporting the people of Cuba, our neighbors but 90 miles away, in achieving greater freedom, human rights, and religious liberty plus also engaging a trading partner that will benefit American commerce.”

 

PHOTO:Passengers wait at Miami International Airport for a charter flight to Havana Feb. 8. U.S. Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, has called on the U.S. government to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba and withdraw all travel restrictions to the communist island nation. Bishop Pates, chairman of the U.S. bishopsÕ Committee on International Justice and Peace, made the request in an April 17 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)