Presiding Bishop to Congress: Lift Travel Ban to Cuba

June 23, 2005

Dear Representative:

As Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, USA, I write to urge your strong support for an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to the FY’06 Treasury and Transportation appropriations bill. The Flake amendment would bar the enforcement of the federal ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba.

From a Christian perspective, the concept of reconciliation is at the heart of God’s ministry in the world. The Scripture teaches us that “God has reconciled us to himself and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” After more than 40 years of enforcement of a travel ban and other sanctions against Cuba that have done little but inhibit the freedom and economic well-being of the Cuban people, the Episcopal Church believes the time for reconciliation has come.

First and foremost, lifting the travel ban would vastly improve the lives of average Cubans. Families would benefit from person-to-person contact with their loved ones from the United States, both as a result of the ability to receive financial remittances and from regular exposure to American ideals of democracy, freedom and economic liberty. Employees in the travel and tourist sector would also benefit. Even Cuba’s small entrepreneurs – especially private restaurateurs, taxi drivers, artisans, families that rent rooms in their houses – would benefit from an influx of American capital into their services. The current travel restrictions have done little if anything to undermine the Castro government and a great deal to undermine the livelihood and independence of Cuban families.

Additionally, lifting the travel ban makes sense for U.S. economic interests. By allowing Americans to travel to Cuba, the U.S. government would significantly spur demand for U.S. products in Cuba, particularly in the agricultural sector. Current limited agricultural sales to Cuba as allowed under the embargo totaled nearly $400 million in 2004; that number would increase substantially simply from lifting the ban on travel, benefiting American farmers, exporters and shippers.

Ending the travel ban is also a matter of basic freedom for Americans. A longstanding constitutional tradition – under which the right to travel emanates from the basic protection of the Bill of Rights -- dictates that the U.S. should restrict its citizens’ freedom to travel only in cases where such travel would threaten national security interests. This is certainly not the case with Cuba today. To the contrary, empowering Americans to act as ambassadors for freedom would strengthen U.S. interests in Cuba and would end the unfortunate current practice of heavy-handed U.S. licensing under which Americans are routinely investigated and fined by the Treasury Department for “unlicensed travel”.

Lastly, our nation should lift the travel ban because ordinary Cubans want us to do so. The Episcopal Church of Cuba is strongly opposed to the travel ban, a witness that has informed the longstanding position of The Episcopal Church USA. Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church also opposes the travel ban, as do each of Cuba’s mainline Protestant Churches. Even prominent leaders among Cuba’s political dissidents support lifting the travel ban with increasing frequency, as the ban’s economic downsides have become impossible to deny.

As a Christian leader, I have the benefit of being able to travel to Cuba under one of the few categories – religious travel – still allowed under the travel ban, and I am greatly looking forward to receiving a new report from our Church’s Standing Commission on Peace with Justice, which is traveling to Cuba this month to report on the impact of our nation’s sanctions. Other critical groups of travelers have not been as fortunate as religious travelers, however. Academic and medical travelers, in particular, two great focuses of humanitarian and cross-cultural exchange have been utterly barred from Cuba by the Bush Administration’s tightening of the travel restrictions in 2003. When considering these new restrictions in light of all of the above, it is difficult for me to conclude that anything short of a full lifting of the travel ban will fulfill our responsibility to effect reconciliation in God’s world.

I am deeply grateful that the House and Senate have voted to lift the travel ban for the last several years, but saddened that back-room deals have prevented these victories from coming to fruition. I hope you and your colleagues will once again take the bold step of lifting the travel ban, and will hold fast to that position even against the Administration’s strong opposition. Basic American principles of freedom and economic liberty are at stake, as are the simple well-being and vitality of the Cuban people, who have lived for more than four decades in widespread poverty and repression.

Thank you for your consideration. Please know that my prayers are ever with you as you seek to meet the challenges of public service.

Sincerely,
 

The Most Reverend Frank Tracy Griswold

Presiding Bishop and Primate

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