The Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) - the leading institution of the ecumenical movement in Cuba, with 52 churches and Christian institutions as members, including Protestants, Reformists, Evangelists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and Orthodox; in addition to other ecumenical institutions such as centers devoted to research, information, community service, and theological seminaries; as well as associate members, such as the Hebrew Community of Cuba (Jews) and the Yoga Self-fulfillment Association of Cuba, among others; and an active participant in the Inter-Religious Platform of Cuba which brings together all religions established in Cuba - has since its foundation advocated for unity to serve our people and nation, through the search for love, justice, and peace among peoples and nations, which are the most evident evangelical signs of the kingdom of God amongst us.
Over the last 25 years, with the goal of working for unity to serve our people and nation, through the search for love, justice, and peace among peoples and nations, we have developed fraternal relations and solidarity work with the Inter-Religious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastor for Peace (IFCO/Pastors for Peace), in particular under the leadership of the eminent Reverend Lucius Walker.
With concern, we read the press communiqué released by IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Tuesday August 23, stating, "… IFCO has been informed that its tax exempt status will be revoked for carrying out humanitarian work in Cuba," which, according to the IFCO statement, the IRS (U.S. Internal Revenue Service) considers a violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act of the Treasury Department.
In our experience working with IFCO/Pastors for Peace, we have learned that its social raison d'etre and objectives are not exclusively directed toward Cuba, but rather toward the interior of the United States, through the promotion of just causes and educational efforts regarding the industrial complex, prisons, fair immigration reform, as well as creating consciousness around environmental concerns, and the need for sustainable food security, among many other issues.
Internationally, IFCO/Pastors for Peace focuses in particular on regions like Palestine, Central America and the Caribbean - where Cuba is noted - with the intention of helping to emphasize the negative impact of U.S. foreign policy toward countries in these regions.
In the Cuban case, with the U.S. following a policy described by President Barack Obama himself as "failed" - a failure repeated again at this time - the IRS warning to IFCO/Pastors for Peace constitutes a cloud hovering over one of the actors which has contributed the most to the (current) U.S. government policy in search of a climate of engagement and understanding between the two peoples and governments.
Since 1992, the IFCO/Pastors for Peace Caravans bringing donations to Cuba have supported the people's health with medicine and medical equipment; education of children and youth with teaching materials; and Christian congregations, their pastors and missionary programs with means of transportation - to cite only the most well-known.
But it is not IFCO/Pastors for Peace that donates; the U.S. people donate, with other peoples joining in. IFCO/Pastors for Peace has been the public face, providing the means through which solidarity and donations reach Cuba.
The work of IFCO/Pastors for Peace in Cuba has made visible to our people the dignity, friendship, love, sisterhood, and solidarity of the U.S. people, of which only a small portion consider Cuba the "enemy." This small portion, looking to hold back the future and progress, appears to be concentrated in the Treasury, OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control), and now the IRS, which continues to implement the Trading with the Enemy Act, despite president Barack Obama's appeal to Congress to end the blockade of Cuba, and that of U.S. Secretary of State in Havana, who later during the reopening of the U.S. embassy to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two countries, said that they were now "friends." Or is that enemy-friends?
This pressure being exerted on IFCO/Pastors for Peace is an intentional attempt to undermine solidarity and fraternity between our two peoples, so that the U.S. people set aside their principles of solidarity with Cuba; and to undermine the Cuban Revolution, so that, in the same way, it sets aside its revolutionary principles - something that they will never accomplish.
But, at the same time, if this were to happen, they would lose IFCO/Pastors for Peace as one of the most important actors in U.S. public diplomacy with respect to Cuba.
Thus, the Cuban Council of Churches and IFCO/Pastors for Peace have been important participants among the many actors who have contributed - and built - the long, continuous process toward normalization of relations between our two peoples and governments. We have not gone to the front pages of the large media to promote support for policies of change; we have been agents of change, for greater understanding at the grassroots level.
In many ways, especially in Cuba, the Cuban people have supported this process of reestablishing relations and moving toward normalization of these, since with our interactions and people-to-people, church-to-church relations, and through fraternity and solidarity, we have demonstrated that it is possible to have a normal relationship, which is what we are seeking, and which the U.S. government itself should recognize as a unique, genuine contribution, since fraternity and solidarity are built through person-to-person recognition, honesty, and mutual respect. These cannot be bought or sold, because they have such a great value that their price cannot be estimated.
It is time to correct injustices, and above all, not commit new injustices. The IRS action, yet to be consummated, would be an attack on solidarity within the U.S. - not only on IFCO/Pastors for Peace; and its worse offense would be the political intention, which they are attempting to hide behind the implementation of administrative measures.
Cuban churches, the Christian ecumenical movement, and Cuba need IFCO/Pastors for Peace; and the United States needs IFCO/Pastors for Peace!
Long live faith, peace, hope, and unity between peoples and nations!
Cuban Council of Churches
Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, president
Havana, August 28, 2016