Church leaders praise new travel policy on Cuba

January 18, 2011

Faith leaders with long-term ties to Cuban organizations are hailing a
change in White House policy that reduces restrictions on religious
travel to the island nation.

The White House announced January 14
that President Obama had directed changes that include permitting
religious organizations to sponsor trips under a general license. The
administration also will create a general license that permits
remittances to religious institutions in Cuba that support religious
activities.

"The president believes these actions, combined with
the continuation of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the
widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its
citizens," the statement said.

During a November meeting in the
White House, officials with the National Council of Churches had asked
Obama to address limitations on travel to Cuba by U.S. religious
leaders.

"The White House announcement is an important first step
toward more just and open relations between the U.S. and Cuba," said
Michael Kin­namon, NCC general secretary. "We look forward to the day
when the U.S. embargo of Cuba will be lifted completely."

United
Methodists said its Board of Global Ministries and other religious
organizations had general travel and general fund transfer licenses
prior to a tightening of the economic embargo during the recent Bush
administration.

"Our prayer is that the new regulations, when
published, will restore opportunities to obtain such licenses," said
Thomas Kemper, the top executive of the global ministries agency, in a
January 20 statement.

The changes—which are expected to take
effect this month—were also welcomed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops as a positive move to help the Cuban people. —RNS