By Marilyn Sieber
While we’ve heard little direct news from our partner church, First Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Havana, Rev. Liudmila Hernández, pastor of First Havana and vice-moderator of the Synod, participates via phone with the Cuba Partners Network Steering Committee meetings.
She reports that long lines for food, medicines, and other goods continue, and that shortages of food and medicines are making day-to-day living very difficult. One Presbyterian pastor waited in line for over an hour and a half to pick up a prescription. Presbyterian pastors keep in touch with daily morning prayers via WhatsApp, and that is the main communications tool used by many Cubans. Churches do not hold services via Zoom, but First Havana has been open for services in the past few months; we are not sure if that is true now. After a recent decline in Covid-19 cases, Cuba experienced an increase this past week with 420 active cases. Total Cuban deaths from Covid-19 since March are 128.
In response to the dire economic situation, Cuba Partners Network sent out a call in June to raise $25,000 for the Synod. NYAPC Cuba Partners Committee sent $1000 using its unspent budget. More than $60,000 was raised for the Synod for its work and to distribute to Presbyterian churches.
In August, the Network said it was able to securely transfer money to individual Presbyterian churches. NYAPC was able to give $8500 to First Havana from an unexpected $10,000 grant, which, after PCUSA fees, should be $7700 for First Havana. These monies were just received by the Synod for hand-distribution to designated churches.
Cuba has now opened is airports and American Airlines just announced that it will be resuming flights to Havana. This does not mean that the planned NYAPC trip to Cuba in January will go on as planned. We will wait until we know that safety for travel to Cuba is assured related to Covid-19 before we reschedule.
In the meantime, keep in touch with your Cuban friends and pray for them and the church there, and for all Cubans as they struggle through devastating economic hardship.
The following was reported by Cuban pastors who participated in the annual Cuba Network Partners meetings on September 23-24 via WhatsApp/Zoom:
Ongoing crisis in Cuba. As the pandemic resurges in Cuba only a few churches are able to hold services. Several borders between provinces have been closed. Churches try to continue their community service programs, but access to food and other items for these programs is limited. As scarcity of beef and pork persist, the government is looking at alternative protein sources. New “U.S. dollar stores” are fully stocked, but inaccessible to the majority of Cubans who continue to struggle and wait in lines for hours at the sparsely stocked stores that accept Cuban pesos. Even more serious is the shortage of medications. Cubans are helping each other by sharing their medications through the use of social networks.
The following was reported on October 23, 2020 by the Center for Democracy in the Americas and could affect church to church remittances:
The U.S. Treasury Department announced that it is further restricting remittances to Cuba by amending Cuban Assets Control Regulations that would subject remittance forwarding entities and related transactions to sanctions and is amending three general licenses that will affect remittances from persons subject to US jurisdiction. It will serve to further close channels through which the Cuban people can receive remittances.