Editor's note: The Florida Conference has a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church of Cuba called Methodists United in Prayer. The work of Florida Conference churches in Cuba along with the state's proximity to that island country heighten interest in ongoing talks of easing trade relations with the Communist-run nation. Here we post a story about United Methodists' role in opening negotiations with Cuba and the implications of a changing relationship between the U.S. and Cuba for Methodist mission work.
U.S. religious leaders played an unofficial but significant role in the negotiations that led to the Obama administration’s restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, said a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. John McCullough, the top executive of Church World Service, said an ecumenical coalition embarked on its own diplomatic mission, hoping “to bring a sense of clarity” between the U.S. and Cuban governments. That mission was related to discussions over humanitarian concerns for Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba, and three members of the “Cuban Five” remaining in U.S. prisons.
Religious advocacy efforts included consultation from the leadership of different denominations – including The United Methodist Church – and outreach to others, such as the Jewish and Roman Catholic communities and state councils of churches.
“As an ecumenical strategy, we became focused like a laser beam on the humanitarian crisis,” McCullough explained. “One of the real difficulties was that neither government wanted to be the first to make the move because of the level of distrust.”
During a Dec. 17 news conference, President Barack Obama announced the prisoner releases by Cuba and the U.S., along with policy changes normalizing travel, banking and trade relations.
The U.S. Senate and House held committee hearings on the impact of those changes earlier this month, and lawmakers from the Republican and Democratic parties are reported to be working on bills intended to increase trade between the U.S. and Cuba.