The Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejoices in the news of the release of US citizen Alan Gross from prison in Cuba, along with the release of Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino, three Cubans being held in prison in the United States. The release of these prisoners has opened the way for historic changes in US policy towards Cuba.
“The release of Alan Gross and the three Cuban prisoners is an example of how nations can find common ground. When there is a will to live as true neighbors as Jesus Christ has taught us, we find a way towards justice and reconciliation,” Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Office of Public Witness stated.
The announcement by President Obama of momentous changes in US policy towards Cuba is welcome news to all who have been working towards the normalization of relations with Cuba. The Presbyterian Church USA has been advocating for changes in policy towards Cuba for over 50 years. Most recently the Office of Public Witness has organized religious delegations from Cuba, led a coalition of denominations and faith based organizations calling for a change in policy towards Cuba, and organized meetings with members of congress and the administration urging an opening of relations between the two countries.
In 2011, the Obama administration credited a delegation of religious leaders from Cuba and the United states, organized by the Office of Public Witness, with influencing an ease of restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. Presbyterian pastors who were once part of the PCUSA before the revolution were unable to collect their pensions due to the policies of the economic embargo. After meeting with the delegation, the administration allowed the pastors, many of whom were elderly and alone, to collect their much needed pensions.
“The record will show that our work on building better relations between the United States and Cuba is faithful to the policies of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Over the years, we have consistently called on our nation’s leaders to end the embargo and find common ground,” said Rev. Nelson. “Our faith partners on the ground in Cuba have suffered significantly due to the failed policies of the past. The Obama administration has taken a major step to reunite families and open doors to broader opportunities and a new way forward.”
The Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Rev. Gradye Parsons, recently participated in delegations to Cuba and Washington along with the Reverend John L. McCullough, president and chief executive officer of Church World Service, and Rabbi Elhanan “Sunny” Schnitzer, executive director of the Cuba-America Jewish Mission, in order to urge officials to release Alan Gross and the three Cubans. The Stated Clerk’s statement on their release can be found at http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/12/17/pcusa-stated-clerk-lauds-historic-action-cuba/