Institute on Religion and Democracy
CASTRO-FRIENDLY NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IS NOT A NEUTRAL ARBITER IN DISPUTE OVER DISPLACED CUBAN BOY
The Institute on Religion and DemocracySteve Rempe
January 12, 2000
The president of the IRD questioned how the National Council of Churches (NCC), given its years of friendliness with Fidel Castro, can effectively arbitrate a dispute over Elian Gonzalez, a six-year-old Cuban refugee in Florida. Elian's father and the Cuban government demand Elian's immediate return to Cuba. Elian's relatives in Florida want him to remain in the United States.
IRD president Diane Knippers observed that for years the NCC has praised the supposed "achievements of the Cuban Revolution," while ignoring the Castro regime's gross human rights abuses. "The NCC has faulted the U.S. embargo for Cuba's impoverishment while ignoring the oppressive, statist policies that actually created that poverty. Even worse, the NCC has remained silent about Castro's continuing restrictions on religious activity in Cuba."
Former NCC general secretary Joan Brown Campbell has represented the NCC in demanding Elian's return to Cuba while offering the services of the NCC in facilitating that return. Campbell has frequently had friendly meetings with Fidel Castro during her years of leading the NCC. She has commended what she perceived as his open attitude towards religion and the socialized medicine provided by his regime, while declining to publicly comment on the absence of free speech, political debate, economic liberty and religious freedom under Castro's dictatorship. Campbell has indirectly criticized Elian's mother for leaving Cuba in a small boat, which led to her death by drowning. But Campbell has said nothing about Castro's closed borders, which have forced thousands of Cubans to flee their country in unsafe vessels.
"There are other religious organizations that could serve as effective mediators in this difficult situation, putting the boy's interests above political considerations," Knippers said. "But the Castro-friendly NCC is not one of them. Elian's relatives in Florida have no reason to trust that the NCC will be more sensitive to their family than it has been to other Cuban families torn apart by Castro's dictatorship." In numerous media interviews, Campbell has claimed that the dispute over Elian has nothing to do with politics but is simply an issue of "family values."
"The NCC is hardly an outspoken proponent of 'family values' in this country," Knippers observed. "It seems odd that it should suddenly take an interest in family values in this situation."
Campbell has visited Cuba to meet with Elian's family and with Cuban officials. She has apparently not met with Elian's relatives in Florida, who are asking the courts to prevent Elian's return to Cuba.