U.S. citizens will face tighter restrictions on travel to Cuba just as reintegration between the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in Cuba becomes a real possibility.

On June 16 President Donald Trump announced revisions to U.S. policies on travel to Cuba, rolling back more permissible Obama-era rules that allowed travelers to explore the island on their own for “people-to-people” cultural exchange.

“We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security, and intelligence services that are the core of Castro regime,” Trump said of the changes. “They will be restricted. We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo.”

While the Trump administration adjusts America’s relationship with Cuba, talks of integrating the church in Cuba with its U.S.-based counterpart continue. The Rev. Luis León, chairman of the task force charged with advising General Convention on the potential merger, told TLC that the group plans to recommend reintegration.

The Cuban church began as a missionary diocese of the Episcopal Church but left the larger body in 1966 after tensions grew between the United States and Cuba. The extra-provincial diocese has since been under the oversight of the presiding bishop, the primate of Canada, and the archbishop of the West Indies.

“They were there to provide support and encouragement to the diocese, but they’ve really been out like a lost child hanging out there in the Caribbean,” he said.

León, rector of St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, hopes reintegration will provide greater support for clergy, who are excluded from Cuba’s social safety nets, and for growth of mission and ministry. The church there is eager, and the task force has been entirely supportive, he said.

“There’s not one person on the task force that does not want it to happen, and no one could come up with any kind of a reason why it shouldn’t happen.”

General Convention is slated to consider reintegration in 2018.

León was baptized into the Episcopal Church in Guantánamo, Cuba. His parents moved to the United States in 1961, when he was 12. He has been rector of St. John’s since 1994.

Episcopalians wishing to travel to Cuba can still travel with licensed tour operators. Celestyal Cruises, which brings travelers to Cuba as part of licensed tours in compliance with U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control requirements, said in a statement that the cruise line is in compliance with the new rules. It provides passengers with certificates stating that their tour was in compliance with OFAC rules. Carnival Cruise lines released a similar statement, saying that its cruises, too, comply with the new rules.

Those traveling individually for religious or humanitarian purposes will still be free to visit Cuba. The U.S. embassy in Cuba provides more details on travel policy.

Matthew Townsend

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