US bishops call for engagement amid Trump’s policy change on Cuba

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2017 / 03:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump’s changes to U.S. policy on Cuba will end up weakening human rights in the island country, the United States bishops have said.

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in solidarity with the bishops of Cuba and the Holy See, has long held that human rights and religious freedom will be strengthened through more engagement between the Cuban and American people, not less,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“For decades, we have called for the U.S. travel ban and embargo against Cuba to be lifted,” he continued in a June 19 statement.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops objected that the move would affect U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba and would hinder U.S. commerce with entities controlled by the Cuban government.

Last week, President Donald Trump delivered a speech on Cuba policy announcing the changes.

“I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” the president said, charging that President Barack Obama’s policy ignored human rights violations and the Cuban government’s role in fostering instability in other countries.

CNN characterized the changes as only partial. U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations will continue, and the governments’ respective embassies in Washington and Cuba will remain open. There will be no restrictions on Americans bringing Cuba-produced products like rum and cigars out of the country.

At the same time, there will be strict enforcement of authorized exemptions that allow travel between the U.S. and Cuba. The Trump administration will bar commerce with businesses owned by Cuba’s military and intelligence services.

President Trump’s move asks the U.S. Secretary of State to launch a task force concerning the expansion of internet access in Cuba and to repeat the U.S. opposition to U.N. efforts to lift the embargo on Cuba until more is done to address human rights concerns.

Bishop Cantu, speaking in his role with the U.S. bishops, urged that President Trump consider the ramifications that his order’s implementing regulations will have for “many ordinary Cubans who have taken advantage of new opportunities to support their families.”

He said the president is correct that serious human rights concerns remain.

“The Cuban government must be urged to respect religious freedoms and to extend greater social, political and economic rights to all Cubans,” he said. “The fruits of investment in Cuba should benefit individuals and families, and not the security forces.”

At the same time, Bishop Cantu suggested the president look to Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis helped our nations to come together in dialogue,” Bishop Cantu said. “It is important to continue to promote dialogue and encounter between our neighboring nations and peoples.”

Bishop Cantu is about to depart for a pastoral visit to Cuba at the invitation of the Cuban bishops.

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