Congress attempts to reinstate harsh Cuba restrictions discussed

Rep. Kathy Castor

Members of Florida Methodists United in Prayer task force met late in December with Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D) in Tampa to discuss recent attempts in Congress to reinstitute harsh travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans and others  interacting with Cuba, including Cuban churches. About 20 attended the meeting, held at Hyde Park UMC , according to Terry Denham, chairperson of the task force.

The Republican-backed Diaz-Balart amendment would have effectively reinstituted harsh Bush-era limits on the travel of family members to Cuba and on remittances, which limited travel to Cuba to once every three years and limited remittances to family members to $1,200 annually.  President Obama lifted those restrictions in April 2009.  Since then, the total number of U.S. travelers to Cuba nearly tripled from 10,000 per month to nearly 30,000 per month, according to information contained on Castor’s website.

Denham explained that the lifting of the limits aided those who worked toward more open relations for individuals and churches in Cuba and helped ease the flow of visits, information and funds to churches in Cuba.  Efforts in Congress to re-instate those rules ultimately failed on this attempt, he said, but there is concern that the issue will likely be a continuing threat.  The Methodists in attendance wanted to make clear their views on the matter. (The group was formerly known as the Florida Cuba Covenant, but the name was changed in 2008.)

“The old rules were onerous and unnecessarily complicated and they were somewhat effective in keeping the relationships of churches in Cuba limited, which is what some people wanted.   But people need to understand that the churches have been important to expanding the freedom in the country, allowing people to meet in public, sing, share literature and fellowship,” Denham said. “ Ten or 12 years ago, they were not allowing this to happen and we oppose reverting back to those old rules,” said Denham.

As for the congresswoman, he said, she is not in favor of going back to the old rules.  Even though the issue was already settled for the current session at the time of this meeting, it was helpful to exchange ideas with Castor and to voice their concerns to her, he said.  “We felt heard,” he said.

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