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Church: Denial of Cuban Aid is Dangerous

Church World Service Says Administration’s New Cuba Report Would Prevent Humanitarian Aid to Cuba, Setting ‘Dangerous Precedent’

NEW YORK, July 1 /U.S. Newswire/ — Humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) is protesting the recommendations in an advance draft it received yesterday of a new report by the Bush Administration’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba — which CWS says if accepted would end its ability to provide basic relief aid to people in need in the island nation.

Chaired by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and co-chaired by Secretary of Commerce George Gutierrez, the report has not yet been officially released.

“If the recommendations contained within this report are accepted by President George Bush and put into effect by the Commerce Department, it is likely that we will no longer be allowed to provide humanitarian aid through the Cuban Council of Churches, our agency’s partner in Cuba for 60 years,” said CWS Executive Director Rev. John L. McCullough.

In addition to protesting a probable stop to the international agency’s ability to deliver relief aid in Cuba, CWS is decrying the report’s limits on religious freedom. “Church World Service would view any resulting regulations indicated in this report as unwarranted incursions into religious freedom by the Bush administration.

“The report is an assault on ecumenical relations not only in Cuba, but internationally and sets a dangerous precedent. This tries to dictate the very ways in which we deliver humanitarian aid to people who need it. If the way we provide aid can be curtailed in Cuba, our relief and response work could be threatened anywhere else.”

One of the report recommendations reads as follows:

“Tighten regulations for the export of humanitarian items, other than agricultural or medical commodities, to ensure that exports are consigned to entities that support independent civil society and are not regime administered or controlled organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches.”

McCullough noted, “It is chilling that the Cuban Council of Churches is mentioned by name, and as an example of a ‘regime- controlled’ organization. Depending on how the regulations are written, food, medicine, and medical equipment” — some of CWS’s main shipments to the island nation — “might be exempted from this provision, but we wouldn’t count on it. Other humanitarian items, such as blankets, school kits and sewing supplies, and any other non-food and medicine aid will certainly be off-limits to the CCC. And this, when before us is predicted one of the worst hurricane seasons ever.”

McCullough and other ecumenical representatives have been trying to meet with Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, but so far Shannon has not responded with a meeting. “Ecumenical bodies have a right to determine their partners and to relate internationally,” McCullough states. “This raises grave concerns apart from the politics of US-Cuban relations.”

Parts of the report also refer to new restrictions on travel to and from Cuba, which Church World Service has been advocating against since early this year when McCullough addressed proposed travel restrictions at a gathering of members of Congress and officials at the Departments of State and Treasury.

In that address, McCullough noted that, “Since the late 1940s CWS has engaged with an ecumenical partner in Cuba that enables us to work cooperatively. We have no doubt that the Cuban Council of Churches is an authentic Christian expression … Our hope is that faith will not be manipulated as a tool of international diplomacy.”

An ecumenical humanitarian agency such as Church World Service is a cooperative effort. CWS represents 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations in the United States which themselves represent tens of millions of members in their respective local churches.

“To hinder this activity is to strike at the heart of our religious identity and freedom. Religious freedom was a key principle to the founders of the American Republic,” says Martin Shupack, associate director for Church World Service public policy.

Since 2004, the current U.S. administration has taken a series of actions to limit travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans wishing to visit family members, scientists, academic researchers, students and now national religious bodies.

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