From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
HELMS BILL FUELS DEBATE OVER CUBAN EMBARGO
05 May 1996 07:34:44
95051 HELMS BILL FUELS DEBATE OVER CUBAN EMBARGO
by Alexa Smith
HAVANA, Cuba--What it means to cause suffering to Cuban citizens
while claiming to free them from another alleged abuser continues
to fuel theological debate about the U.S. economic embargo of
Cuba, according to Presbyterians in both countries.
Sen. Jesse Helms' introduction of the "Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act" promises to resurrect 36 years' worth
of ethical and political quandaries, such as:
* Who is really harmed by such action, the Cuban government
or, in biblical terms, `the innocents'?
* Is it sin to levy unrelenting punishment seemingly bereft
* Why is Cuba the unforgiven enemy when trade has been
resumed with other communist governments?
For Helms' legislation pushes, among other things, to
strengthen U.S. sanctions against Cuba -- and to extend the
embargo worldwide by action of the United Nations Security
"We'll kill you in the name of freedom" is how retired
pastor Elier Ceballos describes the U.S. embargo's unspoken
message. And for Ceballos it means the Board of Pensions of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is prohibited by the federal
government from transmitting his full pension to a Cuban bank --
since that is deemed trading with the enemy.
"I cannot understand that kind of freedom, that kind of
justice," said Ceballos in an interview in Cuba one week before
Helms' proposal was announced. "What are they doing with this
kind of policy? It's a matter of power. That's all."
Cuban theologians insist that Protestant orthodoxy has
always defined misuses of power
-- under the more traditional names of "pride" and "self-
righteousness" and "arrogance" -- as sin.
The sin of the United States is arrogance, said 76-year-old
the Rev. Rafael Cepeda of Havana, who is quick to say that even
the complicated relationship between the Cuban government and the
church here has shown some progress despite bitter beginnings,
while U.S. policy remains unrelenting.
What puzzles Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theologians is
just how effective the current embargo is anyway: Does it punish
enemies or innocents, or, in more secular terms, does it provide
a mismanaged Cuban government an alibi for its own economic woes?
Analyst Alan F. Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and
Democracy (IRD) in Washington, D.C., argues that economic
sanctions seldom achieve political objectives -- such as changing
the government in Cuba.
Instead of striking those actually responsible for
injustices, he said, sanctions often work in reverse, hitting
those who are least responsible. And the poor bear the brunt of
He said refusing business initiatives, such as disallowing
commercial airlines flights to the U.S. or rejecting athletes for
international competitions, are ways to make an impact on another
nation without bludgeoning the innocent.
Wisdom said IRD has no official policy on the U.S. embargo,
though the Institute has long expressed opposition to the Castro
Citing the PC(USA)'s continuous opposition to the embargo,
Worldwide Ministries Division director the Rev. Clifford
Kirkpatrick says the U.S. is really hurting the people we claim
to care about. He said, too, that forgiveness and love of
enemies are biblical principles that get muddled in relationship
"We're certainly not called to starve 'em (enemies) to
death, and that is what the embargo is trying to do," Kirkpatrick
told the Presbyterian News Service, adding that trade has resumed
with China and North Korea. He said Cuba's human rights abuses
are no greater than abuses in those countries.
Wisdom said that while the embargo certainly makes Cuba's
economic dilemma worse, it is not the principal cause of Cuba's
problems. "We're the only nation on earth engaged in the
embargo," he said, asserting Cuba has not produced products to
compete on the world market. Wisdom said Cuba's real economic
difficulties only emerged when subsidies from the Soviet bloc
stopped several years ago.
That is an opinion shared by some Cuban Presbyterians in
Miami, who believe continuing the embargo is the way to hasten
the end of an almost bankrupt -- and corrupt -- government.
"The truth of the matter is, there has been mismanagement of
Cuban natural resources for more than 36 years. And the Cuban
people are suffering from that mismanagement," said Elder Winston
Sosa, who came to Miami from Cuba 34 years ago and who is now
principal of a Presbyterian mission school begun in Cuba in the
last century and reestablished by the exile community here. Sosa
is a member of Miami's First Hispanic Presbyterian Church.
He says politically correct ideology became more important
than competence in the infrastructure established in Cuba after
the revolution, which led to incompetent decision-making. "It's
sad," he said.
"We are living hard now," said Ceballos. However, he
insists life in Cuba is better than in some Latin American
countries. "We still have something to eat. Our land is very
Ceballos said a good relationship with Cuba's northern
neighbors would help -- and, as a Christian, he does not
understand U.S. determination to force its own more classist
system on a small island's socialist vision. Nor does he
understand why the U.S. tries to pressure other nations to stop
trading with Cuba.
"We are trying to live a different life in hope," he said,
pointing out that governments imposed on Latin America have not
successfully improved the lives of ordinary people. "(Why can
the U.S. not say) ... `We'll not help you. But, at least, we'll
leave you alone?'"
# # #
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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