ATLANTA (ABP) — Leaders of the Alliance of Baptists applauded the Obama administration's relaxing of travel restrictions to Cuba. The policy change, announced Jan. 14, coincided with a delegation leaving Jan. 24 to visit the island nation as part of the Alliance's 20-year-old partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba.
"In the Alliance of Baptists we see the announced changes as a step in the right direction for U.S.-Cuba relations," said Paula Clayton Dempsey, the Alliance's minister for partnership relations. "We look forward to enhanced travel opportunities to Cuba for U.S. citizens and we anticipate the day when Congress removes all travel restrictions and opens travel to Cuba for all U.S. citizens."
The new regulations, which do not require congressional approval, allow religious organizations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general license. Previously church-sponsored groups desiring to travel to Cuba had to apply for a specific license. The change also creates a license allowing financial contributions for religious activities in Cuba.
The Alliance, which claims membership of more than 2,000 individual members and 130 affiliate congregations, has 32 local and global mission partners, including the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba. A number of Alliance churches have partnerships with sister congregations in Cuba, and some members of those churches have traveled there in mission teams.
Dempsey said she hopes the easing of travel restrictions will encourage more churches to get involved. "The Alliance actively encourages relationships between churches in the U.S. and congregations in Cuba," she said.
The new travel policies leave in place America's 50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. It was imposed during the Kennedy administration as a means to pressure Cuba's revolutionary government toward democracy and human rights. Critics say it actually helps Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, allowing them to shift blame for poverty and suffering in Cuba to the United States.
At their annual gathering last summer in Pacific Grove, Calif., Alliance members passed a resolution criticizing the embargo's "destructive impact on both countries" and called on President Obama to "thoroughly review" U.S. policies in Cuba.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.
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