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Cuba and the US embargo

Latin America Working Group urges a complete end to the travel ban on Cuba    [4-15-09]

This statement, dated April 13, 2009, comes from the Latin American Working Group, which works "to encourage U.S. policies towards Latin America that promote human rights, justice, peace and sustainable development. LAWG promotes the interests of over 60 major religious, humanitarian, grassroots and policy organizations to decision makers in Washington."

The White House issued a statement today that lifted all restrictions on transactions related to the travel and remittances of family members to Cuba. Check our blog for details and comments. Here is the White House fact sheet on today's action.

We applaud today's announcement and President Obama's commitment to Cuban Americans and the sanctity of family relations. Nevertheless, we urge the President to now push forward in restoring the right of ALL Americans to travel. Watch our friend, Silvia Wilhelm of Puentes Cubanos, explain why she, a Cuban American, supports "Travel for All."

What today made clear to us is that we must double our efforts to demand a definitive end to the travel ban. Send the White House a message or, better yet, call the comment line (202.456.1111)

Here is the message:

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your executive action lifting the restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans.  It is an important step forward toward creating a rational and effective policy toward Cuba. But it isn't enough.  I ask that you step even further: there is more you can do by executive action to allow Americans to travel to Cuba; and you should indicate your support for congressional action to lift the entire travel ban on Cuba. These steps would send a message across the hemisphere that real change has come to Washington.

Looking to the Summit of the Americas, and on the heels of your executive order, I urge you to declare your support for the lifting of travel restrictions for ALL Americans, finally restoring the constitutional right to travel.


We continue working toward our goal of putting an end to the travel ban, and each day more and more people join us in asking for "travel for all." Continue spreading the word, and be sure to take a moment today to celebrate this step forward.


Mavis Anderson
Paulo Gusmao

Visit the LAWG website for more Summit actions you can take.

Lugar: "Time to Rethink US Sanctions on Cuba"       [2-24-09]

Agence France-Presse reports:

The time is right for reevaluating US sanctions on Cuba, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says in a new report, calling for allowing Cuba to buy US goods on credit, US media reported Sunday. Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana's opinions are attached to a report due to be released Monday that could add fuel to momentum toward change in almost five decades of US policy seeking to isolate Cuba, the Americas' only communist country. The full story >>

Latin America Working Group urges:

End the Travel Ban on Cuba

Their email, dated February 17, 2009:

Dear Cuba Policy Advocates,

S. 428, "Travel for All," is the Senate companion to H.R. 874 introduced two weeks ago by Representatives Delahunt (D-MA) and Flake (R-AZ). The Senate bill, introduced by Senator Dorgan (D-ND) with Senators Enzi (R-WY), Lugar (R-IN), and Dodd (D-CT), calls for the lifting of travel restrictions so ALL Americans can travel freely to Cuba.  More information >>

S. 428, like H.R. 874, is an important step toward a changed Cuba policy; and we need your help to make this a reality. Contact your senators and ask them to co-sponsor S. 428.

To find your senators' contact information, you can call the Senate switchboard at 202.224.3121; or you can look it up here.

Here is the message:

Please co-sponsor S. 428, "To allow travel between the United States and Cuba."

This bill introduced by Senators Dorgan (D-ND), Enzi (R-WY), Lugar (R-IN), and Dodd (D-CT) calls for lifting travel restrictions to Cuba for ALL Americans, restoring our right as citizens of the United States to travel freely, and takes a giant step toward restoring our country's reputation in Latin America and the world.

Thank you for your support in ending this inhumane and out-dated travel ban. To co-sponsor S. 428, please contact Wendy Gnehm in Senator Enzi's office or Brian Moran in Senator Dorgan's office.

Support "travel for all" rather than "travel for none" or even "travel for some."

Click here to send your senators an e-mail using our webform.

If you haven't contacted your congressperson yet, please take a moment to ask her/him to co-sponsor H.R. 874. See our alert from last week here and take action on H.R. 874 today!

And don't forget to register (remember PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR EVERYONE) for Cuba Consultation 2009, March 5 and 6 in Washington DC. Click here for more information, and continue checking our website for updates about the agenda.


Mavis Anderson
Paulo Gusmao

NOTE: The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a participating member in this organization, through our Washington Office.

From the Presbyterian Washington Office

Global Security Quarterly

Bush Administration Tightens Embargo on Cuba

July 2004: In December 2003, President Bush named an advisory body, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, to review U.S. policy toward Cuba and identify additional steps "by which the United States can help the Cuban people bring about an expeditious end to the Castro dictatorship." [note 1]  On May 6th of this year the Bush Administration announced its intention to adopt the recommendations of the Commission, which include a significant tightening of the U.S. embargo against Cuba -- with numerous new restrictions on U.S. citizens' rights -- which will have a particularly negative impact on many Cuban Americans.

In response to these actions, the 216th General Assembly called on the U.S. government to reject these new inhumane restrictions that cause undo hardship on ordinary Cuban citizens and restrict the rights of Americans. Many feel that these policies, in addition to harming Cuban Americans and their families, are sacrificing any possibility for a warming of relations with Cuba in order to make short-term domestic political gains.

The violations of human rights in Cuba can be solved through a U.S. government policy of engagement and criticism. This country has no reason to feel threatened by Cuba and should work to resolve the conflict through diplomatic and political means.

The New Policy

The Commission Report's first chapter is the most disturbing. Entitled "Hastening Cuba's Transition," it states that the Commission sought "a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime and contribute to conditions that will help the Cuban people hasten the dictatorship's end." 2

To accomplish this goal, the administration is adopting policies to work with Cuban dissidents and other anti-Castro sectors in Cuba, distributing information and U.S.-funded media in Cuba, cutting off financial resources to the Cuban government (by restricting Cuban-American travel), and internationalizing the embargo by carrying out international public education campaigns about Cuba.

The Commission calls for a $29-million increase in support for Cuban dissidents and anti-Castro NGOs in the United States and other countries. Many dissidents, however, are critical of this new policy. The wife of a prominent dissident criticized it recently in an article at "Did the Bush administration ask for the opinion of internal dissidents when the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba crafted it report? No. Will the measures hurt Castro's regime? No. Instead, the Cuban people will suffer from the measures." 3

In order to distribute more information -- as well as U.S.-funded media in Cuba -- the Commission recommended that the U.S. overcome the Cuban jamming of Radio Marti's signal. (Radio and TV Marti are the principal U.S.-media vehicles, which were started in 1985. Their signals are frequently jammed.) The Commission called for the U.S. to send a special aircraft to circle the Cuban coast and broadcast radio and television signals, and for the Bush Administration to spend $18 million on an aircraft for the Office of Cuban Broadcasting.

The measures to cut off resources to the Cuban government are the most drastic and cause the most hardship for Cuban families living in the U.S. and Cuba. In an effort to destabilize the Cuban economy the Commission recommends:

•• Tightening the enforcement of travel restrictions by increasing inspections.

•• Further restricting educational travel.

•• Eliminating the category of "fully hosted travel" - a category which many business groups have used to explore Cuba. (Visitors could travel to Cuba and have their expenses paid by the hosts in Cuba.)

•• Tightening minor provisions (including eliminating the $100 worth of goods visitors can bring back from Cuba, eliminating permits to athletes to participate in sporting events, and making it more difficult for private boats to visit Cuba).

•• Funneling money to groups in third countries to run campaigns to discourage tourism to Cuba.

•• Limiting travel by Cuban Americans to once every three years. The limit now is once per year.

•• Ending the general license for periodic Cuban-American travel. A visa would be issued for each trip.

•• Narrowing the definition of family, and issuing visas only for visits to immediate family members.

•• Limiting Cuban-American donations to relatives in Cuba by putting a weight limit on luggage and limiting what can be sent in gift packages. Clothing, deodorant, and seeds would be banned.

•• Limiting the length of stay of family visits to 14 days and the amount that Cuban Americans can spend per day.

•• Limiting the amount of money that can be sent to family members in Cuba and to whom the money can be sent. The total amount a person can carry to family members in Cuba is reduced from $3000 to $300. 4

In order to further isolate Cuba and internationalize the embargo the Commission also called for $5 million to be spent to persuade governments of third countries to adopt the U.S. policy of embargo.


Many in the Cuban-American community are distressed by these new measures and the strain they cause on their families in Cuba. While the administration was hoping that these measures would rally support among traditionally Republican Cuban Americans, it may have created a backlash. Most embargo supporters are those who fled to the United States from Cuba immediately after the revolution -- they no longer have family on the island. It is this population that has been pressuring the Bush Administration to take more drastic steps, as they no longer have family on the island that the measures would affect. A recent poll found that more that 68 percent of Cuban Americans that arrived in the U.S. after 1985 -- many of whom still have family in Cuba -- support unrestricted travel there. 5

On June 9th, in reaction to this new policy, the House of Representatives voted to block the Bush Administration from enforcing some of the new regulations. On an amendment to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, the House voted 221--194 to reject funding for the Commerce Department's sections of the new Cuba restrictions. The regulations under this department include limiting the amount of luggage travelers can carry to Cuba (to 44 pounds) and limiting the items that Cuban Americans can send in gift packages to their relatives. It is largely a symbolic gesture but still important. The Senate has not taken up this issue and it may be taken out during conference on the bill. Last year both the Senate and House voted to lift the travel ban to Cuba, but it was taken out of the bill by Republican leadership during conference.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department is the agency in charge of enforcing the embargo on Cuba. They have issued these new rules in "interim" form, with the final version of the rules to be made publicly available by September 14. OFAC is currently accepting comments (until August 16) that will be considered in the development of final regulations. Though it is unlikely that the current regulations will be changed, it is important that they hear the objections to these new rules. Please send comments to [Note:  You must register with name, address, and more, to access this page.]

General Assembly

The 216th General Assembly (2004) called upon the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury Department to rescind new regulations published in the June 16, 2004, Federal Register and permit travel to Cuba.

From Previous General Assemblies

Whereas, United States' efforts to bring about political change in Cuba through punitive economic sanctions have largely failed and resulted in both hardship for the Cuban people and resentment among numerous friendly governments around the world; and

Whereas, calls by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to lift the U.S. embargo and normalize relations over the years (1969, 1972, 1977, 1982, 1990, 1993) have gone unheeded; therefore, be it* resolved, that the General Assembly do the following:

•• Renew the call upon the United States government to initiate negotiations with the Cuban government toward the end of reestablishing full diplomatic relations.

•• Renew the call on the United States government to end the economic sanctions that it has imposed on Cuba, and to respect the opinion of the world community in this matter.

•• Call upon the United States to encourage economic investment in Cuba for assisting the Cuban people's efforts to build a just society, and to do so in ways that respect the dignity of the Cuban people and their right to self-government.

•• Encourage presbyteries and Presbyterians to seek to be peacemakers by building relations with Cuba through visits, church-to-church exchanges, provision of humanitarian needs, study, and advocacy of positions recommended by the General Assembly. (Minutes, 1997, Part I, pp. 588-592)


1. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Report to the President. May 2004, p. 7.  [Note:  This document is 458 pages in pdf format.  So be prepared for a looong download.]

2. Ibid.

3. Whose Country Is It Anyway?, May 24, 2004 (cited in A Critical Analysis of Bush's New Cuba Policy, Farley and Thale, May 2004.)

4. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Report to the President. May 2004, pgs. 15-40.   [Note:  This document is 458 pages in pdf format.  So be prepared for a looong download.]

5. Concerns Voiced Over Travel Restrictions to Cuba, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 20, 2004 (taken from A Critical Analysis of Bush's New Cuba Policy).

-Written by Catherine Gordon

Published by the Stewardship of Public Life (SPL) advocacy program of the Washington Office, Presbyterian Church (USA), 110 Maryland Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 543-1126,



GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

If you like what you find here,
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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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