We will Continue Working so Congress Eliminates the Blockade, Says Rev. Winkler

Havana, Cuba, Jun 4.-  We will continue working with people of good will in the U.S. so Congress eliminates the blockade against Cuba and we normalize relations, said Reverend Jim Winkler, President of the National Council of Churches of that country (NCC).

It will take time and will need hard work, but we will make our voice heard. Remove the blockade is the right thing to do, he said in an interview with the Cuban press that recently traveled to Washington for the third round of talks between Cuba and the U.S.

Winkler, who has traveled to Cuba several times, most recently a few weeks ago, agreed to give his view on the change of direction of relations between the two countries.

He confessed to be among the surprised with the announcements of December 17: “…we have long worked for the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, but we didn’t anticipate this piece of news…”

He added that he did not think the Obama administration had the political courage to make that decision.

It is a big step forward for the President and the country publicly acknowledge that the policy has failed; the U.S. people have welcomed this decision, he assured.

Some disagree, but most U.S. citizens support the change of direction with respect to Cuba, including most churches belonging to the NCC, an organization founded in 1950 that brings together 45 million people in over 100,000 congregations in local communities across the U.S.A.

The Reverend confessed it was wonderful to travel to Cuba recently and see the spirit of the people with the announcements made by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama.

During his stay on the island he was able to meet with religious leaders and with the Cuban Five, with whom he shared stories and experiences of all the years of struggle to demand justice for them.

We are very happy because our churches have a common history, they clamored for the return of Elian Gonzalez with his father, which was right and now continue to work in conjunction with many people of good will in our country and especially in Congress, to eliminate the blockade, he pointed out.

Winkler showed a 1973 document by the NCC, which demanded that if the US had normalized relations with the Soviet Union, why couldn’t the same thing happen in the case of Cuba.

We know it takes a lot more pressure and we have to be more consistent in working with Congress, we hope that Cuban church leaders join us in Washington to have some meetings on Capitol Hill, said the Reverend.

When asked about a possible change of position towards Cuba in a Capitol of Republican majority he said he was among the optimists.

I know it’s a Congress dominated by Republicans, but even within that party there are people who have supported normalization for many years, partly because of the importance of economic relations between the two countries, he commented.

For the president and general secretary of the NCC, they are not dealing at the U.S. legislative body with an intransigent opposition since there is a bipartisan coalition that is working and has presented proposals for laws regarding issues such as the elimination of the travel ban so U.S. citizens can visit Cuba, trade or access to information technologies.

This is the time and we should make it happen, during the time Obama will remain in the presidency, he added.

With respect to the elements within the Congress seeking to block the process of reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, he pointed out that they do it for purely political reasons because they seek to capitalize on the issue and use it to gain an advantage in electoral politics, but that is not the popular will.

In relation to the initiative presented two weeks ago by Republican Senator Marco Rubio to condition the lifting of the blockade to the fact that Cuba pays for properties nationalized after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, he said he does not believe this has any chance to succeed.

Even if representatives and senators succeed in convincing Congress to approving some legislation -like Rubio’s- to stop the process, the President can veto it, clarified Winkler.

In his opinion, the more U.S: citizens travel to Cuba, and many want to, direct connection between the peoples will contribute to relations and will create the basis of trust that help a positive scenario for the normalization of relations and the members of Congress always want to hear what voters have to say, he explained.

On the idea advocated by some that the island is a threat to U.S. security he said that no one believes that argument.

As talks take place and people more aware of Cuban reality and churches remain together, holding exchanges, as people gets used to relations between the two countries, it will be harder for those who want to stop the process to succeed, he predicted.

In the face of the possibility that a Republican gets to the White House in the general elections of November, 2016, he said he wouldn’t be surprised that, if elected, he tried to hinder the process of normalization of relations, but in his opinion it is very difficult for the current course to be reversible. (ACN)

Radio Cadena Agramonte, June 4, 2015

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