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Will Trump's New Cuba Policy Help or Hurt the Church?

06-16-2017
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Speaking in Miami Friday, President Donald Trump has announced a number of changes to the Obama-era policy that he says will hurt the Cuban government and help the Cuban people.

"The previous administration's easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime," the president said.

The new policy, he said, will not lift sanctions on Cuba until it releases all political prisoners and respects the Cuban people's right to freedom of assembly and expression.

U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to service the island, but individual travel to Cuba will be restricted. Most U.S. travelers will be required to visit as part of organized tour groups run by American companies.

The effect on U.S. missions to Cuba and on the Cuban church itself is still unclear, especially as the Treasury Department has announced that it is still working through the specifics of travel regulations.

Jason Carlisle, head of Hispanic mobilization for the Southern Baptists' International Mission Board, says the new travel restrictions could slow down the acceleration of U.S. missions trips to the island. They were encouraged by the normalization of relations with Cuba begun under the Obama administration in 2014.

"This may put more of a damper on some of the large numbers of Americans going," said Carlisle. "But God has been at work for decades and this isn't going to slow Him down."

The president did not mention religious freedom in his speech, although he spoke extensively about political oppression and invited several dissidents to share the stage.

That omission did not concern Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Gonzalez said the president did a good job of highlighting human rights abuses and called the changes "very smart policy, narrowly tailored to hurt the military and the security agencies--the apparatus of oppression."

Dr. Teo Babun heads Echo Cuba, a non-profit that supports Cuban churches, and says he believes the Trump administration is committed to supporting religious freedom on the island.

"There is some disappointment that in the speech itself there was not an outcry for freedom of religion at this time," he said but noted that the president has spoken of it in the past and said his overall commitment to freedom in Cuba is most important.

Babun characterized the Obama Cuban policy as both helping and hurting the Cuban church. It allowed unimpeded travel for Cuban pastors outside of Cuba he said and also for humanitarian aid to be shipped to churches.

Yet he noted that in the last several years the Cuban government has knocked down churches and imprisoned freedom of religion advocates.

Babun said Cuban pastors simply want to focus on their work as pastors and teachers of the Bible.

"They just don't want any restrictions in that work. They don't want the U.S. to come up with something that would jeopardize that," he explained. "And at the same time they welcome laws, activities that the U.S. would use to pressure the Cuban government to better allow them to do their work.

As CBN News has previously reported, Cuban churches are known around the world for their incredible growth in the midst of poverty and suffering.

 

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