From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:34:44


                         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 
of forgiveness?  
     * 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 
the shortages. 
     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 
to Cuba. 
     "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 
good. ..." 
     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  
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