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Church Council to Fight Cuba Embargoes : Ecumenism: National Council says collapse of communism makes effort critical.

December 21, 1991|From Religious News Service

NEW YORK — The National Council of Churches has promised Cuban President Fidel Castro renewed lobbying efforts aimed at ending longstanding U.S. embargoes against Cuba.

The Rev. Joan B. Campbell, general secretary of the council, said that representatives of the ecumenical body made the pledge at a four-hour meeting with Castro earlier this month.

The meeting took place during an ecumenical gathering in Cuba Dec. 9-12.

The council has opposed the embargoes since 1972, but Campbell said the need to provide food and medicine is more critical than ever with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and other communist partners of Cuba in Eastern Europe.

Campbell said Castro told her he had been taken by surprise by political changes around the world. "He said the collapse of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union had come so suddenly . . . that there had been no time for them to create any alternative economy," Campbell said.

According to Campbell, her 19-member delegation told Castro it would focus efforts only on embargoes against food and medicine because council leaders feel the strongest humanitarian and moral arguments can be made in those areas.

Campbell said Castro responded: "Absolutely. We need the food, and we need the medicine."

Church leaders from several countries pressed Castro on questions of human rights violations in Cuba but were "not terribly satisfied with his answers," Campbell said.

Besides U.S. and Cuban delegations, representatives were present from the Latin American Council of Churches, the Caribbean Conference of Churches and Canadian Council of Churches.

According to Campbell, representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Cuba, which sponsored the convocation, said they had filed complaints accusing the government of "rounding up" dissidents for the purpose of harassing them.

"It's the first time there's been that inter-American approach," she said. "It is an indication of the seriousness with which people see the situation."

Campbell said Castro did not look "terribly strong" and appeared saddened by the isolation the fall of communism has brought to Cuba.

"He is still committed to the revolution," said Campbell. "You do see in him a kind of tone of sadness, more sadness than desperation.

"He must feel that the dream of a strong and free Cuba in which everyone is fed is very difficult to carry out in the present situation."

Campbell said Castro seemed to take pride in a recent reversal of laws in Cuba that had excluded Christians from membership in the Communist Party. Since the change in October, some party officials are even going to church, Castro told her.

Campbell said Castro also told the delegation, "We have much to learn from Christians about sacrifice and commitment."

In addition to lobbying against the continued embargo, the National Council will issue an appeal for humanitarian assistance through its relief and development agency, Church World Service.

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