By Fidel "Butch" Montoya
Many years ago, back in the early 60’s when my father and mother were the pastors of the Iglesia Cristiana A/D in Farmington, New Mexico; news of the Castro Revolution was sweeping across the country. Back then, it was the Huntley Brinkley newscasts that brought us the news of the nation and world.
The corruption of the government in Cuba was well known. The Mafia and other criminal enterprises had practically free rein in Havana with casinos, drugs, and social clubs. Dictator Fulgencio Batista, allegedly fled Cuba with $300 million in his back pocket as guerilla forces of Fidel Castro pushed the government armed forces aside.
At the time, there was great hope that the Revolution lead by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara would bring change people would embrace and wanted so badly.
During the revolution, Pedrito Torrez was a Latin American District Council missionary in Cuba. Brother Torrez came to our church showing a film of the revolution and expressing great hopes that now Cuba would be free of Batista, and that the Gospel would be able to preached more openly.
Brother Pedrito was here touring our church district council trying to raise funds for his ministry in Cuba. The expectation at the time was Cuba would be a key nation in spreading the Pentecostal message throughout Central and South America. I do remember the great excitement in the air.
Almost as quickly as the armed rebellion ended, Fidel Castro declared Cuba a Communist state and joined Russia as one of its key allies.
Russia jumped at the opportunity to have an ally nation only 90 miles from the shores of the United States. Through several misguided policy blunders after the revolution, the United States only grew further away from Cuba.
As we may know over the years, 50 years or so, the United States has tried through its embargos and political isolationism to break the Castro government. While it is the people may have suffered because of the political attempts to destroy the government of Cuba, Castro has managed to survive the embargo and policy missteps of the USA.
I am not taking a political stand in favor of the Castro government, but Castro in not allowing "capitalism" to influence the will of his government, has shocked American political policy wizards who thought the Cuban government would have collapsed years ago because of the embargo and isolationism.
The debate over the years in our country has always centered on whether or not we should re-establish political relations with Cuba. Cuba does offer an island paradise for tourist trade, for commercial development, business opportunities, and new avenues of communication with the Cuban people. In a short word, Americans have always looked at Cuba through the lens of capitalism.
Still, partly because of the political will of Cubans who were forced to leave everything behind when they fled the Castro Revolution, they have continued to put political pressure on American presidents over the years which have kept the doors to Cuba locked.
Rev. Dennis Rivera, Superintendent, Central Latin American District Council A/G sent me a recent survey which once again opens the debate about lifting the embargo and establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The survey has found that "most Evangelical leaders want the Cuba embargo lifted." Recalling the enthusiasm of the missionary from so many years ago, I can understand today the reason for wanting Cuba open again.
According to the March Evangelical Leaders Survey, 63% of Evangelical leaders want the embargo lifted. That contrasts to a large number of Americans who believe the embargo should not be changed.
The BBC/Harris Poll weighs in on the debate by showing that 40% of Americans support the embargo, while 36% want the embargo lifted. The BBC/Harris Poll was released March 2, 2010.
Evangelical leaders reasons for wanting the embargo lifted are that it has failed over the years to influence the government in Cuba to resist its current policies. The impact on the poor by restricting trade for food and necessary every day goods and services is also given as a reason. But of course, according to the poll, "the potential benefit the lift would have on the spread of the Gospel are the primary reasons Evangelical leaders support the embargo's end."
The Evangelical leaders who do not support lifting the embargo while recognizing the impact it has had on the poor "stressed the value of the embargo's symbolic nature for religious liberty and against the oppression of communism."
It appears the 34% who do not support the lifting of the embargo do so based on political policy and not any spiritual perspective. It is difficult to see the rational when the people of Cuba have suffered not only because of a totalitarian government, but because the USA refuses to acknowledge the pain and suffering our "political policies" have had on the quality of life for Cubans.
Jerry Dykstra, Executive Director for the Christian Reformed Church of North America expressed the reality that the embargo has done little to bring the Cuban government down. "For more than 50 years, the embargo against Cuba has done little to bring freedom, hope, or change to Cuba. It is time to open the door to open trade and visitation. Perhaps opening the door to commerce will open the door once again to the Gospel."
I think I would have stated the reason it is time to open the door to Cuba would have maybe sounded something like this.
"For more than 50 years, the embargo against Cuba has done little to bring freedom, hope, or change to Cuba. It is time to open the door to the Gospel. Perhaps opening the door to the Gospel, it would open trade, visitation and sustained commerce for the Cuban people."
Just a minor tweak on his statement, but certainly having a bigger policy impact if you analysis the two statements.
Wonder which one the Cuban government would accept as the first step to reopening the doors to Cuba?
The Evangelical Leaders Survey, conducted monthly by the National Association of Evangelicals and its Board of Directors includes "the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of Evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.
The President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson offered his observations on the strong interest by Evangelicals to unlocking the doors to a Cuba which has endured a political and trade embargo based on political entitlement policies, and which have conveniently ignored the troubling impacts the embargo has had on the people of Cuba.
Anderson says, "American Evangelicals have a special interest in Cuba because of the large and rapid increase in the number of Evangelical churches and believers there over the past decade. We are saddened by economic suffering among Cubans but delight in the spiritual awakening God has brought. The majority of our polled leaders think that lifting the embargo is what is best for the future of all Cubans."
As I look back to those days In Farmington, I recall the enthusiasm of Brother Pedrito who came to visit our church with his old projector and film. His desire to share the Gospel in Cuba seems to have always carried with it the vision and calling to take a message of hope and salvation to the Cuban people. Even in a small congregation of believers so far from Cuba, the spirit of expectation was strong and very hopeful as Brother Pedrito shared his vision for Cuba.
I believe it is time our government revisited the need for this embargo against the people of Cuba. Often times it has been used as a means to discipline and isolate rogue governments, but this embargo has done little to bring down the 50 years of the Castro Revolution.
The United States needs to look back at the policies of this government at the time and acknowledge that we too made policy mistakes and blunders. We need to understand that by placing an embargo on Cuba, we have hurt the people who have been forced to live in poverty and despair. While it would be difficult to justify some of the policies of the Cuban Revolution, I believe it remains far more difficult to continue to endorse and justify the bad policy decisions made by this government in the 1950's.
Even our own President in the1960's was willing to be honest and open about the mistakes and blunders we made as we attempted to influence the Batista and Castro governments in Cuba.
President John F. Kennedy, in an interview with Jean Daniel, executive editor of Le Nouvel Observateur weekly, in October 24, 1963, perhaps gives us reason today to stop and evaluate our bad policy decisions to place the embargo against the Cuban people in the first place.
"I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country's policies during the Batista regime. I approve the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further; to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear."
I agree with the 63% of the Evangelical leaders who believe it time to lift the embargo. It is time for our government to understand, "to some extent it is as though CASTRO was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins."
Perhaps it is time to hear more Latino Evangelical leaders stand at the doors of the White House and proclaimed, "Mr. Obama, tear down this embargo!"
Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H.S. Power and Light Ministries. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed to preach in 1972.