American bishops' visit aims to speed Cuba-U.S. thaw
Mon Aug 17, 2009 6:29pm EDT
By Esteban Israel
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. Catholic bishops think U.S. President Barack Obama needs to move more quickly to patch up long-bitter relations with Cuba and they hope to speed things up with a visit to the communist island this week.
A delegation led by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley arrived in Cuba on Monday, where they will meet with church leaders.
They will also look over reconstruction work to repair damage caused by three hurricanes last year, said Father Andrew Small, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Collection for the Church in Latin America.
But the main purpose of their five-day trip is to send a message to the White House that it must move more quickly to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.
"Isolation doesn't help change. There has to be greater contact. And the Obama administration has been, unfortunately, encouraging but painfully slow," Small said.
"We need some radical changes, particularly from the U.S. perspective," he told Reuters in the courtyard of a Havana church.
Cuba and the United States have been at odds since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and eventually turned the island just 90 miles off the Florida coast into a communist state.
The political atmosphere has warmed under Obama, who has said he wants to "recast" U.S.-Cuban relations. He has taken small steps in that direction by slightly easing the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island.
But he has said further changes will depend on Cuba releasing political prisoners and making progress on human rights.
Cuba has said it is willing to discuss all issues, but that it will not make unilateral concessions to the U.S.