Singing-Seminary-s

Church members meeting in an outdoor gym sing praises in Santiago de Cuba.

President Obama’s announced move to normalize relations with Cuba should be welcome news for Americans who care about people. While the Cold War stand-off was understandable, more than 50 years of animosity and embargo are more than enough.

It doesn’t take a political genius to know that embargoes on trade and travel have little impact on a country’s powerful decision-makers: their primary effect is on the poor folk, and Cuba consists mainly of poor folk who are even poorer because of their big neighbor’s economic squeeze.

Many Baptists in particular are happy about the news. Groups such as North Carolina Baptist Men, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, and others have long worked in partnership agreements with Baptists in Cuba. The Baptist World Alliance has urged better relations for years and has adopted resolutions opposing the trade embargo.

Old American cars are carefully preserved because new ones can't be imported.

Old American cars are carefully preserved because new ones can’t be imported.

Assisting Cuban Christians hasn’t been easy: governmental restrictions make travel difficult and donations problematic. Churches there meet in houses, sheds, under trees, and in a variety of other locations, many in disrepair. Construction equipment, such as shovels, are worn to a nub because new ones can’t be obtained. I visited the country in 2012 and found any number of enthusiastic pastors and church members, but they had very little to work with (a series of picture-laden blogs begins here).

The president’s declaration can only do so much, and many other politicians will oppose a further thawing in relations, some on principle, and some simply because they oppose anything the president wants. Only Congress can do away with the crippling trade embargo, which serves mainly to posture America as a spiteful bully.

My prayer is that Congress will see the wisdom of better relations with our neighbor to the south. If we really want to see progress toward democracy and greater openness in Cuba, greater friendship would be a good first step.

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