The situation in Cuba is quite dire at the moment, so we think it is important to share an update of what is going on, and how we might help. There are several key issues impacting the critical situation in Cuba.
1. Coronavirus Pandemic -
As an island nation, Cuba had the ability to shut off all international visitors in hopes to stop the spread of the virus and did so March 2020. While the numbers of infection are far less than in the US, the country has remained completely shut down. Travel between provinces (states) is forbidden without special permission. In person worship has been limited. And, unlike the US, the lack of modern technology has prohibited the continuation of services and connections through Zoom and other platforms. This national lockdown continues as Havana is still experiencing increased cases of COVID. Of course, local parishes continue to serve their communities as able and are highly creative in doing so.
The Cuban government has been working on their own Covid vaccine development and are currently testing four vaccine options. They hope to vaccinate the 11 million Cubans and then offer vaccines to visitors and other countries. But this plan is running behind previously published dates to begin vaccinations.
2. Travel Restrictions-
Flights from the US to Cuba have been significantly restricted. All visitors entering Cuba must have a negative PCR test, and upon arrival must quarantine in an approved hotel at their own expense. After 5 days, they must pass a new covid test. Only then may they move freely throughout Havana. As all flights enter through Havana, there is no way to visit communities outside of the city due to the internal travel restrictions. The lack of US visitors for a full year has resulted in the lack of much needed support and supplies (water system replacement parts, medicines, financial support often carried as cash).
3. Inability to get Funds to Cuba-
Personal remittances to Cuba have been restricted and are no longer able to be processed through Western Union. Additionally, previous channels for wiring money to Cuba utilized by Friends of the Episcopal Church in Cuba are no longer available. With no travel to Cuba, there has been no opportunity to carry cash into the country. Therefore, there have been no means to get financial support to the church in Cuba since June 2020. Please contact your companion priest to see if he or she has any way to receive gifts.
4. Monetary Policy of Cuban Government -
Effective January 1, 2021, the CUC was discontinued, the Cuban peso was pegged to the US dollar at 24/1 and, in anticipation of expected inflation, salaries paid by the government to all workers (excluding church employees) were increased +50%. Clergy and church administration staff need to receive a similar salary increase to maintain their ability to buy meager amounts of food, but there is no money in the Diocesan budget available for these unanticipated salary increases. Inflation has been skyrocketing. Rate increases for electricity, water, telephone, and gasoline have been outrageous - up 10x to 15x versus pre-reset rates. Bishop Griselda has been working with other churches to appeal through the Office of Religious Affairs for relief. The Church in Cuba has no means to cover these increasing expenses for basic necessary services. With high electricity and water prices, our program of providing purified water to the 38 communities where systems have been installed is in jeopardy.
5. Food Shortages-
There is a great food shortage throughout Cuba. And the monetary situation impacts this as well. Many food and basic items are available only in stores that accept US dollars. While the peso is pegged to the US dollar, Cubans cannot enter a bank and change pesos for dollars, hence they are not able to purchase these dollar-based goods without another means to access US dollars.
Next Steps/What can we do to help and support our brothers and sisters in Cuba.
Pray for policy changes in the US that will allow funds to move more freely to Cuba.
Pray for an end to Covid so we can resume travel to Cuba to bring much needed funds and supplies.
Pray for stabilization of the currency situation in Cuba.
Pray for your clergy partners in Cuba and let them know you are standing alongside them. Your emails and Facebook messages mean so much to them to know the larger church is in communion with them and trying to share their burden.
In addition to prayer, you can be working in your communities and parishes to recommit to outreach in Cuba and continue to raise funds to support the church in Cuba.
As always, Cubans are enormously resourceful and somehow manage to persevere in the face of the greatest adversity; the Cuban Church will survive this crisis as well. Our support and brotherhood are needed now more than ever.
As travel resumes, there is great need to provide replacement filters and UV bulbs for the existing water systems (assuming we can keep them running). Please do let us know as you organize your group travel so that you can carry these supplies down with you. We have funds available to purchase some of these items and are only asking for your help in delivering them to Cuba.
Thank you for your continued love and support for the Episcopal Church in Cuba.