Washington – The same day President Obama lifted some U.S. travel and monetary restrictions against Cuba, a federal religious freedom panel said Havana is withholding visas ahead of a scheduled visit to the island nation.
Members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom were planning to visit Cuba to discuss religious freedom with government officials and religious communities.
“We are very disappointed by the Cuban government’s refusal to allow an official U.S. delegation to investigate firsthand Cuban citizens’ freedom to believe and practice their faith on the island,” USCIRF chair Felice D. Gaer said Monday (April 13). “Our commission has visited China, Vietnam, Laos, Saudi Arabia and other countries. Does the Cuban government have something to hide?”
USCIRF spokesman Tom Carter said the commission received only a verbal notice of the visas being withheld and no written explanation.
Representatives of the Cuba Interests Section in Washington, which USCIRF officials contacted to seek the visas, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Cuba is on the commission’s “watch list” of countries that it considers in need of close monitoring because of religious freedom violations permitted or conducted by the government.
“The commission has received reports that there are improvements in some sectors in Cuba,” said Gaer. “As with other countries, we seek to ascertain how much and where. … Not allowing USCIRF’s bipartisan delegation to visit is a very disturbing sign.”
By Adelle M. Banks
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