By Bob Allen
The Alliance of Baptists appealed April 6 to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a State Department annual terror report due out April 30.
Meeting April 4-7 in Greenville, S.C., the Alliance encouraged members to sign an online petition by The Latin America Working Group contending Cuba does not belong on a list of America’s foes alongside Iran, Syria and Sudan.
“Any rationale for keeping Cuba on this list has long-since disappeared, especially with Cuba now playing a principal role in facilitating and hosting the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations being held in Havana,” the petition states. “Removal of Cuba from this list will allow the United States to take steps leading to normalized relations with Cuba, and it will positively impact the U.S. relationship with all of our Latin America neighbors.”
The Alliance is one of 65 partners in The Latin American Working Group, an advocacy coalition formed in 1983 to promote U.S. policies that support human rights, social justice and sustainable development in Latin America.
For more than 20 years, the Alliance has been in a partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba, a group started in 1989 after three churches were expelled from a convention of more conservative Baptists. More than 20 of the 100-or-so Alliance churches have a sister-church partnership with a Cuban congregation. In all, the Fraternity has about 35 churches and 80 missions throughout the island.
The Alliance statement says keeping Cuba on the terrorist list weakens the credibility of the entire listing. Further, it says removing Cuba would send a positive message to all Latin American governments and improve the image of the United States in the Western Hemisphere.
Cuba was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. To earn the designation, the Secretary of State must determine a country’s government has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Once labeled, a country remains on the list until the designation is rescinded. The designation carries a wide range of sanctions, including controls over exports and prohibitions on economic assistance.
In the past, Iraq, South Yemen, Libya and North Korea have all been removed from the list. Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden hid out, never made it on to the list, due in part to its strategic importance.
Some observers speculate that Kerry, who succeeded Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State on Feb. 1, might drop Cuba from the list in 2013. While in the Senate he was an outspoken critic of America’s policy on Cuba, including a 51-year U.S. economic embargo. The Alliance has adopted repeated statements over the years asking the government to re-examine a Cuba policy that critics say is a relic of the Cold War.
Experts say Cuba no longer actively supports terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and that dropping it from the list could remove a major obstacle in restoring relations between the two governments. Critics say inclusion on the terror list has become so politicized that it serves no useful purpose.
Removal from the list would not affect the embargo that prevents Americans from visiting Cuba as tourists, but Cuban officials reportedly have hinted that it could influence discussions about the release of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, whose 2009 detention derailed prospects of a diplomatic thaw.
Other statements adopted at the Alliance gathering opposed the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as drones, and lobbied Congress for legislation to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, support vibrant farms and strong communities and preserve the environment.
One statement commended a 2009 Kairos Palestine document addressing the plight of Palestinian Christians living in the occupied territories. One of the authors, Bethlehem pastor Mitri Raheb, is an Alliance partner.
The theme for this year’s convocation was Little Altars Everywhere, taken from the title of the book by Rebecca Wells, who also authored The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. A highlight was the launch of AllianceConnect, a way for progressive Christians to share ideas, reflections and resources “in a trusted online community.”
The vision for AllianceConnect began with conversations among Alliance members and ministry partners about the need for a centralized space where high-quality progressive Christian resources could be found. In the absence of such a clearing house, Alliance leaders discovered that many partner congregations were “rolling their own” by creating their own resources for things like children’s Sunday school, sermons and liturgies.
Mary Andreolli, the Alliance’s minister for outreach and communications, said AllianceConnect will bring together art, music, video, white papers, essays and other resources not just from progressive Baptists, but also “emergence” Christians from other denominations.
“I believe in our post-denominational age AllianceConnect is a response to how communities of faith can come together to create and share resources,” Andreolli said.