US economic blockade against Cuba hits church assembly

The US blockade against Cuba has forced the Latin American Council of Churches to postpone its forthcoming General Assembly.

The CLAI's 6th General Assembly was scheduled to take place from 19 to 24 February in Havana.

However, the CLAI has now had to postpone the assembly after the US branch of the Ecuadorian bank Pichincha froze a deposit of $101,000 made by the CLAI headquarters in Quito, Ecuador.

The transfer had been intended to cover the cost of food and lodging for the 400 delegates and other participants who had been due to attend the assembly.

The blocking of funds has forced the CLAI to delay the assembly until May next year.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said it was "greatly disappointing" that the assembly has had to be postponed.

"It is simply not acceptable that the US government through regulations of its banking system has decided to create these obstacles for a significant Christian body that cannot meet, whether it is in Cuba or elsewhere," Dr Tveit said.

"The United States has an obligation and has repeatedly expressed the commitment to uphold religious freedom. This is a case where the US government could easily have helped to avoid this embarrassing situation but has failed.

"This also shows that the decades old economic blockade of Cuba is out of touch with the realities in the world today, particularly in the faith-based communities, and should be ended for the sake of justice and peace."

Anglican Bishop Julio Murray, from Panama, said that the measure violates US federal law and rules of the US treasury department that enable the delivery and transfer of funds for religious purposes.

The president of the Cuban Council of Churches, the Reverend Joel Ortega Dopico, said the blocking of the bank transfer was "ethically unacceptable".

The board of the Argentine Federation of Evangelical Churches (FAIE) has also expressed its disappointment with the situation, saying that the US's policy was "taking from the churches in Latin America and the Caribbean the possibility to decide freely and ecumenically where and when their activities can take place".