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Commission: Cuba Withholds Visas from Religious Freedom Delegation

posted by akornfeld

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
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • cknuck

    Must have something to hide

  • Henrietta22

    Maybe they just don’t want to be analyzed before they even say hello to Americans again, after all these years.

  • nnmns

    Are we supposed to get excited because Cuba does what we’ve done for decades, and does it to a group from which it doesn’t expect a good report, a group that would better spend its time worrying about, e.g. freedom of speech.
    I choose to not get excited about this.

  • pagansister

    We’ve treated Cuba unkindly for over 50 years. Why would they all of a sudden allow everyone who asks the right to visit?

  • jestrfyl

    Why would they think the would allowed in without resistance? This is an explicitly – if not actually – “Communist” nation. Official policy precludes religion in all its flavors and fun shapes. So assuming they are welcome, or even tolerated, is more wishful than rational thinking. I think Cuban officials would be more willing to welcome representatives from cruise lines, hotels, – or even Toys r Us.
    I believe that the more restrictions are eased the harder it will be for Raoul to keep control. The Cuban people are waiting, our travel people are waiting, the car companies are waiting, everyone has their gps set for Havana. Politicians are like parents at a Little league game – they don’t know enough when to be quiet and get out of the way.

  • Henrietta22

    Great post Jestrfyl!

  • cknuck

    It might be but I’ve been to travel resorts before where right outside of the resort and attractions are the real poor and the money never really reach them but make the governments richer.

  • nnmns

    I’m aware of such resorts and I don’t think we’ve been to one. But I expect, or at least hope, a lot of the visitors will go with the intention of getting money into the hands of Cubans, not the Cuban government or some resort company.

  • jestrfyl

    I have visited, lived in and worked in many areas that are “tourist friendly”. Poverty is usually not more than a few yards from the exits of these places (but rarely near the entrances). Tourists often choose not to see what is uncomfortable – that has been true for centuries. Cuba will be no different than Kingston, Jamaica; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas; Orlando, FL; Portland, ME; Washington D.C.; Custer State Park, S.D.; or any of the other hundreds or vacation destinations. The trick will be to imflunce the development of these commercial opportuinities so the people DO benefit more than – or at least as much as – the corporations and government. Adding in a religious aggravation / component will only make the whole situation inflamed. Let’s wait at least until we have some folks “on the ground” to welcome and introduce our various brands of religion all around.

  • cknuck

    jest religion is alrready there no introduction needed.

  • Marek

    Sigh. Look – people really need to read a book or two before commenting on something they know absolutely nothing about. Those of you who want to get money into the hands of Cubans, not enrich the government, nor a resort company… you just don’t get it. Cuba’s tourism sector is probably among the best on the planet. In the early 1990s, Cuba partnered with foreign investors to build the infrastructure – with the state in more than 95% of the cases taking a 51% stake in the project. For the life of the agreement (15-20 years), the foreign investor made their profit while Cuba gained the hotels and resort developments. Tourist dollars spent go into the government’s coffers to pay for things like the universal health care system (top-notch); free education system (through university, no student loans); comprehensive social security system; worker protection, etc. You have to get beyond the 50 years of propaganda that Washington has foisted upon you.
    As for religion… I have no doubt that the Cubans were in a catch-22 regarding the USCIRF’s visit. Denying the visas creates an impression that there is something to their claims about religious freedom in Cuba. But allowing them onto the island would, guaranteed, result in a negative report. Not because there is truth to the criticisms, but because Cuba has always been held to a different standard than any other nation. Cubans are free to practice any religion they wish: there are christians, jews, muslims, etc. The government many years ago even lifted the restriction on communist party memberships which had excluded believers in a particular faith. The only direct confrontation between the state and religion came when the institution – principally the Catholic church – allied itself with counter-revolutionary forces, working against the majority’s desire to build a new nation free of US interference. When the church seeks political power, the state will naturally respond.

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