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Re: Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba

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  • virtualu
    And another member of the heathen peanut gallery pipes up: Me Too! LAWG certainly has some very weirdly misplaced priorities. Wasting resources on shilling
    Message 1 of 12 , Feb 1, 2006
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      And another member of the heathen peanut gallery pipes up:
      Me Too! LAWG certainly has some very weirdly misplaced
      priorities. Wasting resources on shilling for "faith-based"
      travel to Cuba is certainly one of them.

      Kelly
      NY Transfer
    • Zola2642@aol.com
      Look, I m an atheist too, but I have found it essential especially in international solidarity work to try to reach out to religious people and influence their
      Message 2 of 12 , Feb 1, 2006
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        Look, I'm an atheist too, but I have found it essential especially in
        international solidarity work to try to reach out to religious people
        and influence their thinking and action. I have never been sorry that
        I and others have done so, as the religious front has been an
        important one for Cuba solidarity work. You have to realize that
        whatever your or my opinions and beliefs may be, the USA is a country
        where most people consider themselves religious, a situation which is
        likely to continue for the forseeable future. There are many
        religious figures and organizations that not only have opposed US
        policy to Cuba, but who have been playing an extremely important role
        in organizing against that policy, and there are a number of
        important religious figures, most notably Reverend Lucius Walker of
        IFCO-Pastors (!) for Peace, who is a BAPTIST minister (horrors!) ,
        who actually are full supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

        Lucius is particularly valued in Cuba where I think on more than one
        occasion he has spoken from the podium during Mayday celebrations in
        Havana. LAWG is a religious based group, in case you were not aware,
        but has played an important role in organizing political action in
        the US against the anti-Cuba policies. Some of their members may not
        agree 100% with everything in Cuba, but they do a large amount of
        valuable practical work, while some others just posture.

        Pastors for Peace, the Methodist Church and others have led
        delgations to Cuba not merely to go and worship in Cuban churches,
        but in most cases as acts of solidarity with the Cuban people against
        the US blockade. That is why the US government wants to restrict
        religious travel to Cuba from the United States, and that is why we
        should support LAWG's request.

        Which is better, to try to influence religious congregations and
        communities in a pro-Cuba direction, or just concede all of those
        people to the enemy?

        "Well, 90% of the American people believe in God, so let Pat
        Robertson and George Bush have them, the stupid fools". We can not
        afford to take such a sectarian attitude, which does not help Cuba
        one bit.

        Emile Schepers

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Walter Lippmann
        Well, I m glad so many have decided to express their opinions on this, though I don t agree with what most have been writing. There s no point arguing about
        Message 3 of 12 , Feb 1, 2006
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          Well, I'm glad so many have decided to express their opinions on
          this, though I don't agree with what most have been writing.

          There's no point arguing about religious matters. They are faith-
          based and not subject to empirical verification. I'm not sure how
          many US religious fundamentalists others have run into while there
          in Cuba. In the last six years I've only run into one group of two
          on one occasion. There are plenty of religious believers in Cuba,
          and in recent years there have been more people practicing religion.

          Most people in the world acknowledge some kind of supernatural or
          mystical belief of some kind. I'm not sure what kinds of practical
          consequences flow from this (some go to church, some don't, etc.)
          it doesn't seem like anything worth worrying greatly about since it
          can't be affected by rational discussion anyway.

          Not everyone who practices a relious faith is a reactionary, that's
          for sure! Shafik Handal's memorial meeting here in Los Angeles was
          held at a Methodist church and was addressed not only by its pastor,
          but by a Roman Catholic priest. Cuba dumped the prohibition against
          believers being members of the Cuban Communist Party in 1992, which
          was a step aimed at broadening the political base of support for its
          Revolution.

          People travel to Cuba for all manner of reasons, including making a
          religious pilgrammage. Practicioners of the Santeria and other Afro-
          Cuban syncretic religions are among those. Similarly Jewish groups
          have been travelling to Cuba to visit their co-thinkers for quite a
          long time now. A year or two ago the Greek Orthodox Patriarch visited
          the island and was greeted by the Commander-in-Chief who joined with
          the Patriarch (he was sometimes called the "Green Pope" because he
          took strong ecological positions and very strong positions as well
          against the blockade during his week-long sojourn in the island.

          It takes a certain level of political committment to decide to just
          go to Cuba regardless of U.S. government regulations. Not everyone
          has that level of committment, and those who can still travel to
          Cuba on a legal basis should certainly be encouraged to do so, not
          discouraged as several of our correspondents seem to think.

          Being blockaded has obliged Cuba to respond in all sorts of ways to
          face up to the challenge. IT has strengthened Cuba, that's clear.

          But is the island therefore "better off" for being blockaded? Is Cuba
          smaller but purer in some way thanks to the blockade? The Cubans want
          to see even MORE people from the US, and more business, more trade and
          even US investments on the island. If that's what the Cubans clearly
          do want, we shouldn't make such a big fuss over something which they
          so evidenly want for themselves. It's Cuba's right to decide for
          itself what relations it's going to have with the rest of the world,
          including whom it's going to invite to visit, to trade and to invest.

          The right to travel, for which we have to fight hard in the United
          States, where going to Cuba is very difficult, isn't just a matter
          for those who don't believe in a Supreme Being. It's for EVERYONE.

          It's even for people who do not support the Cuban Revolution and
          who only want to visit the island to go to the beach and catch a
          few rays. If we exclude believers from the struggle because we have
          some theological difference with them, it would narrow the support
          down to a very small self-satisfied "vanguard" of the righteously-
          non-believing. "Better fewer but better" isn't applicable here.


          Walter Lippmann

          p.s. When people ask about my religious preference, I tell them I'm an
          atheist, and God willing, I always will be. Religion is and should
          remain a personal matter, as far as I'm concerned.

          =====================================================================
          I am with you too Simon!
          Lori Houghton
          =====================================================================
          And another member of the heathen peanut gallery pipes up:
          Me Too! LAWG certainly has some very weirdly misplaced
          priorities. Wasting resources on shilling for "faith-based"
          travel to Cuba is certainly one of them.

          Kelly
          NY Transfer

          =====================================================================

          No, Simon. You are NOT alone.
          As a USA atheist I agree wholeheartedly.

          Don
          =====================================================================

          From: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:CubaNews@yahoogroups.com]
          On Behalf Of Robertoanderson2@...
          Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 8:36 AM
          To: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com; simonmcguinness@...
          Subject: Re: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba

          Greetings Simon,

          In answer to your question, As a Cuban born american citizen,
          I hope and pray you are alone in your thinking. I further pray
          that in accordance with the scriptures, the patience of God
          will eventually be to your benefit, after all, even one as you
          who believe things just "happened", can come to have a change of heart.

          Regards,

          Roberto

          -----Original Message-----
          From: Simon McGuinness <simonmcguinness@...>
          To: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Wed, 1 Feb 2006 11:20:27 -0000
          Subject: RE: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba


          Am I alone in thinking that this US government regulation is a blessing
          in disguise?

          As an English-speaking European atheist I am relieved to know that in
          future I will not have to meet religious fundamentalist 'Americans' when
          on holiday in Cuba. For me that is an added attraction. And for the
          long suffering population of Cuba I imagine that it is a benefit too -
          they will be left in peace from US bible bashers who trade their over
          priced pharmaceuticals for pseudo-conversions to their own particular
          brand of irrational group-think.

          No wonder there has been an big increase in tourism to Cuba from
          everywhere except the USA.

          Can I suggest that US Christian fundamentalists holiday in liberated
          Iraq and concentrate their evangelism there?

          Simon,
          Dublin.

          ======================================================================
          From: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:CubaNews@yahoogroups.com]
          On Behalf Of Latin America Working Group
          Sent: 31 January 2006 18:21
          To: cubanews@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba


          January 31, 2006

          Dear Cuba Policy Advocates:

          Greetings! We need your help in educating your members of Congress and
          in getting them to sign on to an important letter to the Department of
          the Treasury/OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) from Congress. This
          letter deals with the increasing difficulty that church denominations
          and their mission agencies are having in receiving travel licenses from
          OFAC. Details are outlined in the letters below.

          Please call your member of Congress (House members only; we hope a
          Senate letter will be forthcoming also) with this message: As your
          constituent, I urge you to sign the McGovern/Flake/Lee letter to the
          Treasury Department to maintain religious and faith-based travel to
          Cuba. Republicans should contact Lance Walker in Congressman Jeff
          Flake's office (R-AZ); Democrats should contact Cindy Buhl in
          Congressman Jim McGovern's office (D-MA) or Jamila Thompson in
          Congresswoman Barbara Lee's office (D-CA). The deadline for signature is
          COB, Thursday, February 16, 2006.

          You can find your Representative's contact information at www.house.gov,
          or you can be transferred to her/his office by calling the Capitol
          Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

          Following is a copy of the Dear Colleague letter that Reps. McGovern,
          Flake, and Lee have sent to their colleagues in the House. Below that is
          the letter to the Department of the Treasury/OFAC that will be sent once
          congressional signatures have been collected.

          Please help us make this a weighty letter with more than 100
          congressional signatures! Your call to your Representative is important!
          And let us know if you make a call or send an email. It helps us track
          the effectiveness of these messages.

          Sincerely,

          Mavis Anderson
          Claire Rodriguez
          Latin America Working Group
          lawg@...

          DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTER:

          Maintain Religious and Faith-Based Travel to Cuba

          Dear Colleague,

          We invite you to join us in signing the attached letter to Treasury
          Secretary John Snow, expressing concern about issues of religious
          freedom related to recent changes in U.S. Treasury Department
          regulations licensing travel to Cuba by church personnel.

          Religious freedom was a key principle to the founders of the America,
          and we are concerned that new interpretation of the regulations
          governing religious travel to Cuba threatens that principle. Recently, a
          number of national church denominations, including the Presbyterian
          Church (USA), the American Baptist Church, the United Methodist Church,
          the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, as well as the
          National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. have been
          denied renewals of their long-standing licenses to travel to Cuba to
          work with sister churches.

          These denials negatively affect the ability of U.S. churches to
          exchange, encourage, and commune with their faith partners in Cuba. In
          fact, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the branch of the
          Treasury Department responsible for administering licenses for U.S.
          citizens to travel to Cuba, has indicated that the national church
          bodies are denied licenses because only local congregations are
          considered "religious organizations" under this new interpretation of
          existing regulations. We are very concerned by any attempt by the U.S.
          government to dictate what level of a church can be considered a
          religious organization.

          In many denominations, individual congregations are understood to be
          local expressions of the national church; they are not independent
          organizations. The national churches act on behalf of the individual
          congregations throughout the country to coordinate matters of mission,
          education, and the Church's presence on a global scale. As you are well
          aware, many individual local congregations lack the capacity, resources
          and experience to navigate alone the complexities of governmental
          bureaucracy and cultural barriers that can impede their participation in
          international mission. Therefore, the new interpretation of the
          restrictions are not only prejudiced against most national mainstream
          denominations and heads of communion, but it also has a discriminatory
          impact on many local churches, including many that are located in
          communities of color.

          A policy that decides which part of the body of a church or religious
          institution can engage in mission and which cannot, curtails religious
          freedom, impairs the ability of local congregations to participate in
          global mission, and politicizes the outreach of the church.

          In addition, the churches being denied new or renewed licenses are, by
          and large, the religious organizations that have had the most
          long-standing ties and relationships with their partners of faith in
          Cuba. It is these ties which have slowly helped spread understanding and
          strengthen the ties between people from the United States and Cuba. We
          believe it is important to recognize the power of faith based
          organizations to affect positive change in the world and not place
          obstacles in the way of these religious partnerships.

          We hope you will join us in raising these issues with Secretary Snow and
          in seeking explanations and clarifications of these new interpretations
          impeding religious travel to Cuba. Should you have any questions or wish
          to join the letter, please contact Cindy Buhl (Congressman McGovern) at
          5-6101, Lance Walker (Congressman Flake) 5-2635, or Jamila Thompson
          (Congresswoman Barbara Lee) 5-2661. The deadline for signature is COB,
          Thursday, February 16, 2006.

          Sincerely,

          James P. McGovern Jeff Flake Barbara Lee


          LETTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY/OFAC:

          February 16, 2006

          The Honorable John Snow
          Secretary of the Treasury
          U.S. Department of the Treasury
          1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
          Washington, DC 20220

          Dear Secretary Snow:

          We are writing you to respectfully request that the Office of Foreign
          Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury please
          provide us with the official new Cuba travel regulations being applied
          to religious organizations, a clear explanation for the rationale behind
          the changes, and an explanation of any new interpretation of prior
          regulations.

          Over the past several months, we have become aware that a number of
          long-established national U.S. religious institutions, who in the past
          have received licenses from OFAC allowing them regular travel to Cuba to
          develop and maintain relations with church counterparts there, are now
          suddenly being denied their licenses for reasons that fail to make sense
          and do not appear well-founded. We are disturbed that OFAC appears to be
          defining what is and is not a religious organization, and that its
          operating definition appears to be prejudiced against recognized,
          mainstream national religious institutions. For your background and
          review, we are including a brief memo summarizing some of the decisions
          to deny licenses to religious organizations.

          To the best of our understanding, the only relevant textual change to
          the Cuban Assets Control Regulations has been the addition of a
          paragraph, added on March 31, 2005, to section §515.566(b) which states:
          "If you are applying on behalf of a religious organization, a license,
          if issued, will only authorize up to twenty-five (25) individuals to
          travel to Cuba per trip and will permit no more than one trip per
          calendar quarter. The license will be valid for no longer than one
          year."

          It appears that the significant increase in the number of religious
          applications denied by OFAC is based either on a) the new text included
          in this paragraph cited above, which was added with no advance notice,
          period for public comment, or explanation to many of the churches; or b)
          on a new set of internal OFAC guidelines that have not been made
          available to the general public, including religious institutions and
          Members of Congress. Given this lack of clarity, we would very much
          appreciate receiving your response to the following inquiries:

          1. Religious organizations that are considered "national" and not
          "local" are now being referred to section §515.566(b) which has
          historically been used for "religious activities by individuals" or
          "religious organizations that do not qualify under the criteria set
          forth in §515.566(a)". These national religious organizations have
          always traveled under licenses applied for under the guidelines set
          forth in subsection §515.566(a). As no language has been changed in this
          section, why do these organizations suddenly not qualify to apply under
          this section, whereas local congregations may qualify? For most
          denominations, individual congregations are the local expressions of
          these national institutions. Why is OFAC making distinctions among
          different organizational levels of the same religious institution? We
          would appreciate receiving your explanation of the rationale behind this
          change.

          2. National religious institutions are now being considered under
          section §515.566(b), which was originally designed for individual
          applicants traveling for religious purposes. Apparently OFAC is
          considering these applications under this section because the section
          has a clause that permits applications "on behalf of a religious
          organization that does not qualify under the criteria set forth in
          §515.566(a)." Neither the regulations nor any published guidelines state
          specific reasons why a religious organization would "not qualify" under
          §515.566(a). We believe it is very important for religious organizations
          to be able to understand clearly the regulatory framework and apply
          under the appropriate categories. Therefore, we would appreciate you
          explaining the differences between churches and religious organizations
          that can apply under section (a) and those that must apply under section
          (b). Please explain as well the rationale for the distinctions that OFAC
          is making.

          3. The paragraph in question states that licenses granted to religious
          organizations under section §515.566(b) "will only authorize up to 25
          individuals to travel to Cuba per trip," no more than four times per
          year. The lack of clarity in this sentence has caused considerable
          confusion for many religious organizations. Please explain if OFAC is
          requiring that no more than 25 individuals can travel in a year, or if
          OFAC means to permit up to four trips, each of which could have up to 25
          new individuals (meaning that the applications could include up to 100
          names).

          Whether OFAC intends to limit the total number of licensed travelers to
          25, or to 100, please explain the rationale for limiting the number of
          individuals that a religious organization can take to Cuba, given that
          the purpose of the trip is to engage in full-time religious activities
          while in Cuba.

          Please explain as well if changes to the list of names can be submitted
          to OFAC for timely approval before the trip if new individuals want to
          join the group after the application has been submitted?

          Section §515.566(b) requires that the applicant "identify all proposed
          travelers" (name, address, phone, etc.). However, licenses granted to
          other religious organizations under section §515.566(a) do NOT require
          the listing of specific names in advance. As it appears that local
          congregations still qualify under section (a), we must ask once again
          why are religious institutions at their national level being treated
          differently than the local expressions of these same institutions? Why
          is OFAC making such distinctions among organizational levels within the
          same religious institution?

          The restriction on the number of travelers along with the requirement to
          "identify all proposed travelers" will make it difficult for national
          church organizations to comply with the new restrictions. During the
          time between submitting an application to OFAC and the trip departing
          for Cuba, there will occasionally be a turnover in church personnel
          and/or changes in church relationships. Whether a trip to Cuba is being
          organized at the national or local organizational level of the religious
          institution, the final list of participants on any given trip can only
          realistically be finalized on a much shorter timeline. The new
          regulations requiring the final list of travelers more than a year ahead
          of time excessively burden religious organizations and restrict
          church-to-church contact.

          In addition to these questions requesting clarification of the
          regulations, we also respectfully ask that OFAC take into consideration
          the serious impact of these recent developments.

          National U.S. religious institutions and their local congregational
          expressions have developed strong ties to religious communities in Cuba.
          They view these ties as essential relationships that exist between
          believers of a common faith across the globe. The level of religious
          organization has no bearing whatsoever on the nature or significance of
          this religious, spiritual, and institutional relationship.

          We understand the complicated political reality that exists between the
          United States and Cuban governments. However, we believe it is
          inappropriate and unacceptable for politics and government to serve as a
          hurdle and now as a barrier to faith-based connections between
          individuals. If anything, these connections foster greater religious
          freedom in Cuba and contribute to a severely-lacking free-flowing
          exchange of ideas between the two countries.

          Thank you in advance for your serious consideration of these inquiries.
          We await your prompt response and hope to continue a discussion with you
          about these important faith-based issues.

          Sincerely,

          [Members of Congress]

          cc: Mr. Robert Werner, Director
          Office of Foreign Assets Control
          U.S. Department of the Treasury
          /*Your email ID. <diaEmailID='78027389' thread=479/>--*/
        • Simon McGuinness
          Walter, I hadn t expected such a response to my comments - it seems I have touched on a sensitive issue which would have little cultural echo in post-Catholic
          Message 4 of 12 , Feb 2, 2006
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            Walter,

            I hadn't expected such a response to my comments - it seems I have
            touched on a sensitive issue which would have little cultural echo in
            post-Catholic Ireland (this still surprises me too). US religious
            activism seems to be a vein that progressives have been mining for some
            time, with a certain amount of discomfort. I have followed with
            interest the progress of several caravans of the Pastors for Peace over
            the years. I am aware that a small percentage of the people of the USA,
            some of whom happen to be religious, have a desire to see Cuba prosper.
            I, like them, wish it were more.

            I just wanted to highlight the use by the US government of religious
            groups to destabilise the government of Cuba, and other progressive
            governments elsewhere around the world.

            I also wanted to draw attention to a key difference between the USA and
            Europe: religious fundamentalism. Almost no one in a position of power
            in Europe would suggest that God was on their side. Compare this to the
            USA where it appears to be a prerequisite for election to any position
            of authority. This has lead to a situation where there are more than
            enough misguided and deluded people in the USA with a religious devotion
            to Armageddon to elect a leader prepared to unleash nuclear war on the
            rest of us. Some would say he's already sitting in the Oval office.

            Believe me, I know what religious fundamentalism can do ... I grew up in
            Ireland.

            I also know that there are millions of US citizens who would like to
            visit Cuba and are discouraged by their government from doing so. Among
            them there are many who seem to regard it as important to Cuba that they
            do. I disagree. Their first duty is to change their own government.
            If that requires they deny their religion, then so be it. I do not
            believe that a handful of people travelling to Cuba and coming back with
            personal stories of Cuba makes any whit of difference compared to the
            millions of Americans baptised into fundamentalist religions each year.
            For every one truthful story told there are literally thousands of hours
            of disinformation inspired by religious bigotry. A closet commie hiding
            behind a cassock to get to the promised land of Cuba will soon be
            exposed as a charlatan if what s/he has to say really made any real
            difference to the balance of power in the USA.

            GW Bush was elected, we are told, by the religious right (or what your
            leaders would call faith-based communities). So was Hitler.

            Cuba has shown that it can survive and prosper without the USA. The USA
            is guilty of genocide in its dealings with the people of Cuba and the
            best thing that the USA can do for Cuba is simply to leave it alone. If
            I had any influence in the matter, I would suggest that this should be
            the focus of US campaigning for the present. The USA is simply too toxic
            for any mutually beneficial exchange with its neighbours until it comes
            to terms with its religious fundamentalists and their stranglehold on
            political power. Even progressives in the USA seem to have a difficulty
            seeing this reality, which is understandable, given the corrosive nature
            of US society. Until then, religion will continue to be the glue which
            holds the genocidal US society together. Pretending to be part of that
            glue is no business of a progressive, however much s/he wants to visit
            Cuba.

            Religion has always been a useful disguise for the bloody intent of
            imperialists. It seems to me that for a progressive to hold up religion
            as a flag of convenience to visit Cuba does little to support the
            greater anti-imperialist project. In contrast, caravanistas - religious
            or otherwise - who publicly break US law to visit Cuba, can rightfully
            claim to have stood up for their own rights and, in doing so, advanced
            the cause of Cuba.

            I believe that without US religious fundamentalism, there would be no US
            genocide. I may be wrong. Others may believe in spirits. They may be
            wrong. My beliefs seem to be supported by the words of every single US
            president that has sent his military to kill on a foreign field with the
            words "may god protect you" ringing in their ears. Osama Bin Laden
            gives a similar blessing to his killers.

            But what I do know for sure is that without religious fundamentalism
            George W Bush would not have his finger on a nuclear button right now.


            In solidarity,
            Simon.
            Dublin.



            -----Original Message-----
            From: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:CubaNews@yahoogroups.com] On
            Behalf Of Walter Lippmann
            Sent: 02 February 2006 04:36
            To: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: RE: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba


            Well, I'm glad so many have decided to express their opinions on this,
            though I don't agree with what most have been writing.

            There's no point arguing about religious matters. They are faith- based
            and not subject to empirical verification. I'm not sure how many US
            religious fundamentalists others have run into while there in Cuba. In
            the last six years I've only run into one group of two on one occasion.
            There are plenty of religious believers in Cuba, and in recent years
            there have been more people practicing religion.

            Most people in the world acknowledge some kind of supernatural or
            mystical belief of some kind. I'm not sure what kinds of practical
            consequences flow from this (some go to church, some don't, etc.) it
            doesn't seem like anything worth worrying greatly about since it can't
            be affected by rational discussion anyway.

            Not everyone who practices a relious faith is a reactionary, that's for
            sure! Shafik Handal's memorial meeting here in Los Angeles was held at a
            Methodist church and was addressed not only by its pastor, but by a
            Roman Catholic priest. Cuba dumped the prohibition against believers
            being members of the Cuban Communist Party in 1992, which was a step
            aimed at broadening the political base of support for its Revolution.

            People travel to Cuba for all manner of reasons, including making a
            religious pilgrammage. Practicioners of the Santeria and other Afro-
            Cuban syncretic religions are among those. Similarly Jewish groups have
            been travelling to Cuba to visit their co-thinkers for quite a long time
            now. A year or two ago the Greek Orthodox Patriarch visited the island
            and was greeted by the Commander-in-Chief who joined with the Patriarch
            (he was sometimes called the "Green Pope" because he took strong
            ecological positions and very strong positions as well
            against the blockade during his week-long sojourn in the island.

            It takes a certain level of political committment to decide to just go
            to Cuba regardless of U.S. government regulations. Not everyone has that
            level of committment, and those who can still travel to
            Cuba on a legal basis should certainly be encouraged to do so, not
            discouraged as several of our correspondents seem to think.

            Being blockaded has obliged Cuba to respond in all sorts of ways to face
            up to the challenge. IT has strengthened Cuba, that's clear.

            But is the island therefore "better off" for being blockaded? Is Cuba
            smaller but purer in some way thanks to the blockade? The Cubans want
            to see even MORE people from the US, and more business, more trade and
            even US investments on the island. If that's what the Cubans clearly
            do want, we shouldn't make such a big fuss over something which they so
            evidenly want for themselves. It's Cuba's right to decide for itself
            what relations it's going to have with the rest of the world, including
            whom it's going to invite to visit, to trade and to invest.

            The right to travel, for which we have to fight hard in the United
            States, where going to Cuba is very difficult, isn't just a matter for
            those who don't believe in a Supreme Being. It's for EVERYONE.

            It's even for people who do not support the Cuban Revolution and who
            only want to visit the island to go to the beach and catch a few rays.
            If we exclude believers from the struggle because we have
            some theological difference with them, it would narrow the support
            down to a very small self-satisfied "vanguard" of the righteously-
            non-believing. "Better fewer but better" isn't applicable here.


            Walter Lippmann

            p.s. When people ask about my religious preference, I tell them I'm an
            atheist, and God willing, I always will be. Religion is and should
            remain a personal matter, as far as I'm concerned.

            =====================================================================
            I am with you too Simon!
            Lori Houghton
            =====================================================================
            And another member of the heathen peanut gallery pipes up:
            Me Too! LAWG certainly has some very weirdly misplaced
            priorities. Wasting resources on shilling for "faith-based" travel to
            Cuba is certainly one of them.

            Kelly
            NY Transfer

            =====================================================================

            No, Simon. You are NOT alone.
            As a USA atheist I agree wholeheartedly.

            Don
            =====================================================================

            From: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:CubaNews@yahoogroups.com]
            On Behalf Of Robertoanderson2@...
            Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 8:36 AM
            To: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com; simonmcguinness@...
            Subject: Re: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba

            Greetings Simon,

            In answer to your question, As a Cuban born american citizen,
            I hope and pray you are alone in your thinking. I further pray
            that in accordance with the scriptures, the patience of God
            will eventually be to your benefit, after all, even one as you
            who believe things just "happened", can come to have a change of heart.

            Regards,

            Roberto

            -----Original Message-----
            From: Simon McGuinness <simonmcguinness@...>
            To: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Wed, 1 Feb 2006 11:20:27 -0000
            Subject: RE: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba


            Am I alone in thinking that this US government regulation is a blessing
            in disguise?

            As an English-speaking European atheist I am relieved to know that in
            future I will not have to meet religious fundamentalist 'Americans' when
            on holiday in Cuba. For me that is an added attraction. And for the
            long suffering population of Cuba I imagine that it is a benefit too -
            they will be left in peace from US bible bashers who trade their over
            priced pharmaceuticals for pseudo-conversions to their own particular
            brand of irrational group-think.

            No wonder there has been an big increase in tourism to Cuba from
            everywhere except the USA.

            Can I suggest that US Christian fundamentalists holiday in liberated
            Iraq and concentrate their evangelism there?

            Simon,
            Dublin.

            ======================================================================
            From: CubaNews@yahoogroups.com [mailto:CubaNews@yahoogroups.com]
            On Behalf Of Latin America Working Group
            Sent: 31 January 2006 18:21
            To: cubanews@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: [CubaNews] Cuba policy: Help Save Religious Travel to Cuba


            January 31, 2006

            Dear Cuba Policy Advocates:

            Greetings! We need your help in educating your members of Congress and
            in getting them to sign on to an important letter to the Department of
            the Treasury/OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) from Congress. This
            letter deals with the increasing difficulty that church denominations
            and their mission agencies are having in receiving travel licenses from
            OFAC. Details are outlined in the letters below.

            Please call your member of Congress (House members only; we hope a
            Senate letter will be forthcoming also) with this message: As your
            constituent, I urge you to sign the McGovern/Flake/Lee letter to the
            Treasury Department to maintain religious and faith-based travel to
            Cuba. Republicans should contact Lance Walker in Congressman Jeff
            Flake's office (R-AZ); Democrats should contact Cindy Buhl in
            Congressman Jim McGovern's office (D-MA) or Jamila Thompson in
            Congresswoman Barbara Lee's office (D-CA). The deadline for signature is
            COB, Thursday, February 16, 2006.

            You can find your Representative's contact information at www.house.gov,
            or you can be transferred to her/his office by calling the Capitol
            Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

            Following is a copy of the Dear Colleague letter that Reps. McGovern,
            Flake, and Lee have sent to their colleagues in the House. Below that is
            the letter to the Department of the Treasury/OFAC that will be sent once
            congressional signatures have been collected.

            Please help us make this a weighty letter with more than 100
            congressional signatures! Your call to your Representative is important!
            And let us know if you make a call or send an email. It helps us track
            the effectiveness of these messages.

            Sincerely,

            Mavis Anderson
            Claire Rodriguez
            Latin America Working Group
            lawg@...

            DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTER:

            Maintain Religious and Faith-Based Travel to Cuba

            Dear Colleague,

            We invite you to join us in signing the attached letter to Treasury
            Secretary John Snow, expressing concern about issues of religious
            freedom related to recent changes in U.S. Treasury Department
            regulations licensing travel to Cuba by church personnel.

            Religious freedom was a key principle to the founders of the America,
            and we are concerned that new interpretation of the regulations
            governing religious travel to Cuba threatens that principle. Recently, a
            number of national church denominations, including the Presbyterian
            Church (USA), the American Baptist Church, the United Methodist Church,
            the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, as well as the
            National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. have been
            denied renewals of their long-standing licenses to travel to Cuba to
            work with sister churches.

            These denials negatively affect the ability of U.S. churches to
            exchange, encourage, and commune with their faith partners in Cuba. In
            fact, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the branch of the
            Treasury Department responsible for administering licenses for U.S.
            citizens to travel to Cuba, has indicated that the national church
            bodies are denied licenses because only local congregations are
            considered "religious organizations" under this new interpretation of
            existing regulations. We are very concerned by any attempt by the U.S.
            government to dictate what level of a church can be considered a
            religious organization.

            In many denominations, individual congregations are understood to be
            local expressions of the national church; they are not independent
            organizations. The national churches act on behalf of the individual
            congregations throughout the country to coordinate matters of mission,
            education, and the Church's presence on a global scale. As you are well
            aware, many individual local congregations lack the capacity, resources
            and experience to navigate alone the complexities of governmental
            bureaucracy and cultural barriers that can impede their participation in
            international mission. Therefore, the new interpretation of the
            restrictions are not only prejudiced against most national mainstream
            denominations and heads of communion, but it also has a discriminatory
            impact on many local churches, including many that are located in
            communities of color.

            A policy that decides which part of the body of a church or religious
            institution can engage in mission and which cannot, curtails religious
            freedom, impairs the ability of local congregations to participate in
            global mission, and politicizes the outreach of the church.

            In addition, the churches being denied new or renewed licenses are, by
            and large, the religious organizations that have had the most
            long-standing ties and relationships with their partners of faith in
            Cuba. It is these ties which have slowly helped spread understanding and
            strengthen the ties between people from the United States and Cuba. We
            believe it is important to recognize the power of faith based
            organizations to affect positive change in the world and not place
            obstacles in the way of these religious partnerships.

            We hope you will join us in raising these issues with Secretary Snow and
            in seeking explanations and clarifications of these new interpretations
            impeding religious travel to Cuba. Should you have any questions or wish
            to join the letter, please contact Cindy Buhl (Congressman McGovern) at
            5-6101, Lance Walker (Congressman Flake) 5-2635, or Jamila Thompson
            (Congresswoman Barbara Lee) 5-2661. The deadline for signature is COB,
            Thursday, February 16, 2006.

            Sincerely,

            James P. McGovern Jeff Flake Barbara Lee


            LETTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY/OFAC:

            February 16, 2006

            The Honorable John Snow
            Secretary of the Treasury
            U.S. Department of the Treasury
            1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
            Washington, DC 20220

            Dear Secretary Snow:

            We are writing you to respectfully request that the Office of Foreign
            Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury please
            provide us with the official new Cuba travel regulations being applied
            to religious organizations, a clear explanation for the rationale behind
            the changes, and an explanation of any new interpretation of prior
            regulations.

            Over the past several months, we have become aware that a number of
            long-established national U.S. religious institutions, who in the past
            have received licenses from OFAC allowing them regular travel to Cuba to
            develop and maintain relations with church counterparts there, are now
            suddenly being denied their licenses for reasons that fail to make sense
            and do not appear well-founded. We are disturbed that OFAC appears to be
            defining what is and is not a religious organization, and that its
            operating definition appears to be prejudiced against recognized,
            mainstream national religious institutions. For your background and
            review, we are including a brief memo summarizing some of the decisions
            to deny licenses to religious organizations.

            To the best of our understanding, the only relevant textual change to
            the Cuban Assets Control Regulations has been the addition of a
            paragraph, added on March 31, 2005, to section §515.566(b) which states:
            "If you are applying on behalf of a religious organization, a license,
            if issued, will only authorize up to twenty-five (25) individuals to
            travel to Cuba per trip and will permit no more than one trip per
            calendar quarter. The license will be valid for no longer than one
            year."

            It appears that the significant increase in the number of religious
            applications denied by OFAC is based either on a) the new text included
            in this paragraph cited above, which was added with no advance notice,
            period for public comment, or explanation to many of the churches; or b)
            on a new set of internal OFAC guidelines that have not been made
            available to the general public, including religious institutions and
            Members of Congress. Given this lack of clarity, we would very much
            appreciate receiving your response to the following inquiries:

            1. Religious organizations that are considered "national" and not
            "local" are now being referred to section §515.566(b) which has
            historically been used for "religious activities by individuals" or
            "religious organizations that do not qualify under the criteria set
            forth in §515.566(a)". These national religious organizations have
            always traveled under licenses applied for under the guidelines set
            forth in subsection §515.566(a). As no language has been changed in this
            section, why do these organizations suddenly not qualify to apply under
            this section, whereas local congregations may qualify? For most
            denominations, individual congregations are the local expressions of
            these national institutions. Why is OFAC making distinctions among
            different organizational levels of the same religious institution? We
            would appreciate receiving your explanation of the rationale behind this
            change.

            2. National religious institutions are now being considered under
            section §515.566(b), which was originally designed for individual
            applicants traveling for religious purposes. Apparently OFAC is
            considering these applications under this section because the section
            has a clause that permits applications "on behalf of a religious
            organization that does not qualify under the criteria set forth in
            §515.566(a)." Neither the regulations nor any published guidelines state
            specific reasons why a religious organization would "not qualify" under
            §515.566(a). We believe it is very important for religious organizations
            to be able to understand clearly the regulatory framework and apply
            under the appropriate categories. Therefore, we would appreciate you
            explaining the differences between churches and religious organizations
            that can apply under section (a) and those that must apply under section
            (b). Please explain as well the rationale for the distinctions that OFAC
            is making.

            3. The paragraph in question states that licenses granted to religious
            organizations under section §515.566(b) "will only authorize up to 25
            individuals to travel to Cuba per trip," no more than four times per
            year. The lack of clarity in this sentence has caused considerable
            confusion for many religious organizations. Please explain if OFAC is
            requiring that no more than 25 individuals can travel in a year, or if
            OFAC means to permit up to four trips, each of which could have up to 25
            new individuals (meaning that the applications could include up to 100
            names).

            Whether OFAC intends to limit the total number of licensed travelers to
            25, or to 100, please explain the rationale for limiting the number of
            individuals that a religious organization can take to Cuba, given that
            the purpose of the trip is to engage in full-time religious activities
            while in Cuba.

            Please explain as well if changes to the list of names can be submitted
            to OFAC for timely approval before the trip if new individuals want to
            join the group after the application has been submitted?

            Section §515.566(b) requires that the applicant "identify all proposed
            travelers" (name, address, phone, etc.). However, licenses granted to
            other religious organizations under section §515.566(a) do NOT require
            the listing of specific names in advance. As it appears that local
            congregations still qualify under section (a), we must ask once again
            why are religious institutions at their national level being treated
            differently than the local expressions of these same institutions? Why
            is OFAC making such distinctions among organizational levels within the
            same religious institution?

            The restriction on the number of travelers along with the requirement to
            "identify all proposed travelers" will make it difficult for national
            church organizations to comply with the new restrictions. During the
            time between submitting an application to OFAC and the trip departing
            for Cuba, there will occasionally be a turnover in church personnel
            and/or changes in church relationships. Whether a trip to Cuba is being
            organized at the national or local organizational level of the religious
            institution, the final list of participants on any given trip can only
            realistically be finalized on a much shorter timeline. The new
            regulations requiring the final list of travelers more than a year ahead
            of time excessively burden religious organizations and restrict
            church-to-church contact.

            In addition to these questions requesting clarification of the
            regulations, we also respectfully ask that OFAC take into consideration
            the serious impact of these recent developments.

            National U.S. religious institutions and their local congregational
            expressions have developed strong ties to religious communities in Cuba.
            They view these ties as essential relationships that exist between
            believers of a common faith across the globe. The level of religious
            organization has no bearing whatsoever on the nature or significance of
            this religious, spiritual, and institutional relationship.

            We understand the complicated political reality that exists between the
            United States and Cuban governments. However, we believe it is
            inappropriate and unacceptable for politics and government to serve as a
            hurdle and now as a barrier to faith-based connections between
            individuals. If anything, these connections foster greater religious
            freedom in Cuba and contribute to a severely-lacking free-flowing
            exchange of ideas between the two countries.

            Thank you in advance for your serious consideration of these inquiries.
            We await your prompt response and hope to continue a discussion with you
            about these important faith-based issues.

            Sincerely,

            [Members of Congress]

            cc: Mr. Robert Werner, Director
            Office of Foreign Assets Control
            U.S. Department of the Treasury
            /*Your email ID. <diaEmailID='78027389' thread=479/>--*/





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          • Zola2642@aol.com
            Emile Schepers Responding again to Simon McGuinness on religion and Cuba. Simon s thoughtful comments remind us how much this and other list-serves are really
            Message 5 of 12 , Feb 2, 2006
            • 0 Attachment
              Emile Schepers Responding again
              to Simon McGuinness on religion and Cuba.

              Simon's thoughtful comments remind us how much this and other
              list-serves are really becoming international phenomena. Those of us,
              like me, who live in the belly of the beast (i.e. in the USA) have a
              special responsibility on the issue of Cuba, for the simple reason
              that it is our country more than any other which is seeking to harm
              the Cuban people and destroy the Cuban Revolution. But sometimes we
              write in international fora like this as if the specifics of the USA
              were worldwide tendencies, and known worldwide. We should explain the
              situation here a little better, and in doing so, we make ourselves
              think a little bit about it.

              Very specific to the USA are: The balance of reactionary and
              progressive currents in religion, the extremely small size of the
              socialist and communist left, the peculiar history of the trade
              unions especially since the Joe McCarthy days, the racial situation,
              and the special features of our electoral political system which
              impede the growth of any parliamentary group outside the Democratic
              and Republican Parties. All of these things shape the strategy and
              tactics of the US Cuba solidarity movement. But on religion only, for
              now....

              Though the US population is more religious than the population of any
              other developed, industrialized capitalist country, and although
              there are some very strong reactionary and obscurantist religious
              currents (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim) here, this is not
              the whole story. The right wing of both Protestand evangelical and
              Catholic Churches support, and are deeply involved with, Bush
              administration policies and politicians (strongest are reactionary
              evangelicals, not all as flamboyantly stupid as Pat Robertson).

              A Bush innovation has been to ignore the clear language of the US
              Constitution which forbids any government involvement with religion,
              and are feeding from the trough of government favoritism and
              grants-in-aid, as never before.

              But for many years, since before the Russian Revolution even, there
              have been radical and socialist currents in what are called here the
              "mainline Protestant" churches, many of which are grouped into the
              Natinional Council of churches which is almost always a progressive
              force on any issue in the US. These include segments of the
              Methodists, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ (which was formed
              from the fusion of the Congregationalists and the German Evangelical
              and Reformed Church), Episcopaleans, Lutherans, Church of the
              Brethren and others.

              Yet in almost all of these denominations there are ALSO some
              extremely reactionary subgroups and trends (e.g. some dreadful
              sectors of the Lutherans). In addition, there is the African-American
              church. The racial history and social structure of the USA has the
              result that almost all institutions in the Black community take a
              progressive oppositionist stance vis a vis the ruling class, and that
              includes especially the churches, for more than 100 years in many
              cases. Strongest are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which
              split off from the Methodist in the Church over the slavery issue,
              and the Baptists. While many (but not all) Baptist tendencies are
              reactionary, most of the African-American Baptists I have met, clergy
              and laity both, have been very progressive on a large number of
              issues, but also very sincerely religious. In addition, there are the
              Friends (Quakers) whose social action arm in the United States, the
              American Friends Service Committee, does outstanding peace and
              solidarity work.

              Some of the problems and issues of the Roman Catholic church which
              occur elsewhere also occur here, but the whole picture is not bleak
              either. Even the hierarchy in the United States sometimes comes out
              on the side of the angels in social justice issues, depending on the
              specific one. The Roman Catholic Council of Bishops has just issued a
              progressive statement on immigrant workers' rights, but on the issue
              of gay and lesbian rights, abortion, birth control and government
              money for church schools, the hierarchy continues to be backward. In
              terms of Jewish religious and clergy, in spite of the reactionary
              positions of many on Palestine and the Middle East, there are some
              that buck the trend even on that topic, including the important group
              "Not in My Name" (different from "Not in Our Name", which includes
              religious and secular Jews who oppose Israeli policies.

              On Cuba, we have had good responses from clergy and laity in most of
              the Mainline Protestant churches, in certain Catholic circles, and
              among the most progressive Jewish currents. When they get interested
              in the Cuba issue, their typical method of work is to send
              delegations of people from their churches, mostly lay activists, on
              missions to Cuba. They often hook up with religious institutions in
              Cuba, such as the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, and do
              inter-church exchanges of information, invite Cuban opposite numbers
              to come and speak at churches and other settings in the USA (very
              hard now due to Bush administration crackdowns). Though not every
              Cuban protestant minister who has toured the USA on the basis of
              these exchanges has been 100% supportive of the Revolution, many
              have, and ALL of them denounce the blockade to rooms and churches
              full of US Christian religious, which is extremely helpful to the
              Cuba solidarity work. US religious have also set up specific working
              groups on Latin American Solidarity, including the Latin American
              Working Group (LAWG) and the Chicago Religious Leadership Network to
              whose advisory board I used to be the representative of the Chicago
              Cuba Coalition, in spite of my not being religious. But if we could
              get some of the theologically conservative evangelicals to change
              their views on Cuba, would that be bad necessarily? Right now the
              mainline Protestant churches are losing members while the
              fundamentalist evangelical churches are growing. (Not all of the
              people who drift away from Mainline Protestant churches go and join
              the evangelicals, most of them I think just lose interest in
              religion). And the conservative evangelicals include people who help
              organize the material base for reactionaries like Pat Robertson and
              Ralph Reed, who are working actively against Cuba (and Venezuela).

              If we could take some of that base away, by saying to evangelical
              believers, "look, you and we are perhaps never going to agree about
              evolution or abortion, but what Robertson etc. have you supporting
              vis a vis Cuba is un-Christian" (and this is more credible when it
              comes from the mouth of an actual Christian rather than of a
              hell-bound reprobate like me), and have even a small portion of them
              stop supporting the anti-Cuba stuff, we will have helped Cuba.

              The general rule is in a country with 80% of more of the people being
              churchgoers likely to be influenced by the opinions of the leaders of
              their churches, we simply can not ignore the religious dimension no
              matter what our own opinions are. Nor can we be sectarian and refuse
              to deal on an issue like Cuba with sectors of the population with
              whom we do not agree, and in fact have active fights, on another
              issue.

              This applies to other things also. Since the vast majority of people
              in the US identify themselves as either Republicans, Democrats or
              "independents" leaning toward either of these big capitalist
              electoral machine parties, and only a tiny minority identify as
              communists or socialists, we can simply not afford to deal only with
              communists and socialists, and not with at least the more progressive
              Democrats. And if there were Republicans who would decide they are
              against the US anti-Cuba policy, for whatever reason, would it not be
              correct to deal with them also if practically necessary, as we did
              with former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan? Ryan, a
              reactionary on many issues and now perhaps headed for jail because of
              mind boggling corruption in his administration, helped legitimize
              opposition to the blockade among the US population, partly because he
              was close to Illinois soybean producers who wanted to sell their
              product to Cuba (and now do, big time). But he also helped greatly
              with the Elian Gonzalez issue, as a major conservative Republican
              political figure who took Cuba's side on that issue, and thus blunted
              the use of the issue by the right wing in this country. (He also
              commuted the death sentences of all 162 people on death row, a number
              of them based on false accusations and perjured testimony, not in
              spite of being a Catholic, but because of being a Catholic).

              Cuba needs people in the US to pressure their government as
              effectively as possible to stop the nonstop pressure and attacks.
              Given the small size of the actual left here, this can only be done
              by the left and the Cuba solidarity movement reaching out to any
              possible forces that could to a greater or lesser degree be
              mobilized, even just short term, to block US policies, or perhaps to
              block just one anti-Cuba vote in Congress. We can't afford to leave a
              single stone unturned. The slogan tactically has to be "whatever
              works...."

              In other countries, there may be larger scale communist or
              left-social democratic tendencies, so the context in which
              international solidarity work takes place no doubt is different.
            • virtualu
              Simon - I agree with you. The CIA s use of religious and missionary groups to carry out its nefarious purposes is well known. Venezuela has just expelled
              Message 6 of 12 , Feb 3, 2006
              • 0 Attachment
                Simon -

                I agree with you. The CIA's use of religious and "missionary" groups
                to carry out its nefarious purposes is well known. Venezuela has just
                expelled one such group, called the New Tribes Foundation, which has
                been exploiting the campesinos for years. Other historical examples
                abound.

                I do not question the right of religious believers to travel to
                Cuba if they so choose -- either alone or in groups, using a US
                license or not. I do not question Cuba's willingness to admit them.
                Cuba has in the past rejected "humanitarian aid" from Catholic relief
                agencies when they have deemed it to be part of a disinformation or
                destabilization program. Cuba's religious population is free to
                practice whatever brand of supernatural dogma it wishes.

                My objection, as a US citizen in solidarity with Cuba, is to the
                sugestion by a nominally progressive US group that I should spend time
                and money supporting their work on behalf of these religious groups.

                What I question is the use of scarce resorces on the part of a US
                group -- Latin American Working Group (LAWG) -- putting its time and
                yanqui dollars into such an effort and asking its supporters to spend
                their time thumping for the rights of religious people (as oposed to
                EVERYONE) to go to Cuba, especially when these so-called "faith-based"
                groups are frequently simply CIA fronts.

                LAWG's politics are middle-of-the-road liberal. They seem more
                concerned with the rights of US tourists to enjoy comfortable and
                inexpensive junkets to Cuba, and the right of US businesses to
                make a profit off Cuba, than they do about changing the USA's
                murderous policies with regard to Cuba or real support for Cuba's
                revolution. It's LAWG's priorities -- not religion per se, or Cuban
                policy on religion -- that I find distasteful. At every opportunity,
                LAWG spouts the typical counter-revolutionary neoliberal line on
                "democracy" and "human rights" in Cuba. I do not regard the group as a
                real solidarity organization as supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

                There are many ways to help Cuba, and many ways to work on changing US
                policy. Spending time and money on trying to ensure religious groups'
                right to travel is not one I see as being especially effective or even
                beneficial -- especially given the pernicious role religious groups
                have played in supporting repression around the world. For every
                Pastors for Peace there are 15 CIA fundy front groups. For every
                Maryknoll Liberation Theologist there are hundreds of Opus Dei
                reactionaries.

                Kelly
                NY Transfer

                --- In CubaNews@yahoogroups.com, "Simon McGuinness"
                <simonmcguinness@...> wrote:
                >
                > Walter,
                >
                > I hadn't expected such a response to my comments - it seems I have
                > touched on a sensitive issue which would have little cultural echo in
                > post-Catholic Ireland (this still surprises me too). US religious
                > activism seems to be a vein that progressives have been mining for some
                > time, with a certain amount of discomfort. I have followed with
                > interest the progress of several caravans of the Pastors for Peace over
                > the years. I am aware that a small percentage of the people of the USA,
                > some of whom happen to be religious, have a desire to see Cuba prosper.
                > I, like them, wish it were more.
                >
                > I just wanted to highlight the use by the US government of religious
                > groups to destabilise the government of Cuba, and other progressive
                > governments elsewhere around the world.
                >
                > I also wanted to draw attention to a key difference between the USA and
                > Europe: religious fundamentalism. Almost no one in a position of power
                > in Europe would suggest that God was on their side. Compare this to the
                > USA where it appears to be a prerequisite for election to any position
                > of authority. This has lead to a situation where there are more than
                > enough misguided and deluded people in the USA with a religious devotion
                > to Armageddon to elect a leader prepared to unleash nuclear war on the
                > rest of us. Some would say he's already sitting in the Oval office.
                >
                > Believe me, I know what religious fundamentalism can do ... I grew up in
                > Ireland.
                >
                > I also know that there are millions of US citizens who would like to
                > visit Cuba and are discouraged by their government from doing so. Among
                > them there are many who seem to regard it as important to Cuba that they
                > do. I disagree. Their first duty is to change their own government.
                > If that requires they deny their religion, then so be it. I do not
                > believe that a handful of people travelling to Cuba and coming back with
                > personal stories of Cuba makes any whit of difference compared to the
                > millions of Americans baptised into fundamentalist religions each year.
                > For every one truthful story told there are literally thousands of hours
                > of disinformation inspired by religious bigotry. A closet commie hiding
                > behind a cassock to get to the promised land of Cuba will soon be
                > exposed as a charlatan if what s/he has to say really made any real
                > difference to the balance of power in the USA.
                >
                > GW Bush was elected, we are told, by the religious right (or what your
                > leaders would call faith-based communities). So was Hitler.
                >
                > Cuba has shown that it can survive and prosper without the USA. The USA
                > is guilty of genocide in its dealings with the people of Cuba and the
                > best thing that the USA can do for Cuba is simply to leave it alone. If
                > I had any influence in the matter, I would suggest that this should be
                > the focus of US campaigning for the present. The USA is simply too toxic
                > for any mutually beneficial exchange with its neighbours until it comes
                > to terms with its religious fundamentalists and their stranglehold on
                > political power. Even progressives in the USA seem to have a difficulty
                > seeing this reality, which is understandable, given the corrosive nature
                > of US society. Until then, religion will continue to be the glue which
                > holds the genocidal US society together. Pretending to be part of that
                > glue is no business of a progressive, however much s/he wants to visit
                > Cuba.
                >
                > Religion has always been a useful disguise for the bloody intent of
                > imperialists. It seems to me that for a progressive to hold up religion
                > as a flag of convenience to visit Cuba does little to support the
                > greater anti-imperialist project. In contrast, caravanistas - religious
                > or otherwise - who publicly break US law to visit Cuba, can rightfully
                > claim to have stood up for their own rights and, in doing so, advanced
                > the cause of Cuba.
                >
                > I believe that without US religious fundamentalism, there would be no US
                > genocide. I may be wrong. Others may believe in spirits. They may be
                > wrong. My beliefs seem to be supported by the words of every single US
                > president that has sent his military to kill on a foreign field with the
                > words "may god protect you" ringing in their ears. Osama Bin Laden
                > gives a similar blessing to his killers.
                >
                > But what I do know for sure is that without religious fundamentalism
                > George W Bush would not have his finger on a nuclear button right now.
                >
                >
                > In solidarity,
                > Simon.
                > Dublin.
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