Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

Cuba Si: May Day in Cuba

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

By Beth Brunton

Last month, I traveled to Havana, Cuba, with Code Pink, the national women-led peace group, to celebrate May Day in Havana, Cuba, and to meet with education, health, agricultural, and cultural leaders. They shared with us their analysis, hopes and fears about both U.S. and Cuban policy changes. Our group was among thousands of travelers, including a 100-strong U.S. delegation, and labor leaders from 70 countries.

The Cubans we met expressed both joy and concern about their changing economic opportunities, including increased trade with the U.S. While they welcome U.S. visitors and trade, they are adamant about preserving their socialist values of equality and unity and resisting domination by the U.S. or any other nations or corporations.

For example, Cuban-born economist Rafael Betancourt, taken to the U.S. at age 11, returned to stay in Cuba in 1986 to help invent a new economic model. Rejecting the Chinese model of Market Socialism, he explained. “Cuba seeks to reinvent ‘socialism with a market’ to preserve the hard-won social equity while allowing new, small enterprises to flourish to raise living standards for all Cubans.”

Another inspiring speaker, Mariela Castro, director of CENESEX National Sex Education Center and President Raul Castro’s daughter, exhorted other Cuban leaders to be the revolutionary vanguard to challenge all forms of discrimination—including gender identity and sexual orientation—because they divide us. Mariela reminds all, “Our power is our unity in diversity. The struggle is not only class based, but also cultural.”

We had a delightful surprise at the end of a visit to the Atelier Opina textile worker co-op, when the 47 mostly women members showed us how they take a break from their antique black Singer sewing machines (like the ones your mother may have used). They turned on salsa music and invited us to dance with them. They told us how proud and grateful they are since voting to become a co-op. They are producing and earning more and building stronger relationships, while producing high-quality uniforms and clothing. Their greatest challenge to growth is the U.S. embargo, which keeps them from importing the fabric they need.

At last, a new relationship with Cuba is possible. With your help, we can learn with and from each other how to create a more fair economy. If you would like to go on a similar delegation, Code Pink plans another Cuban tour in November which will include Guantanamo.

If you support our rights to visit Cuba freely, you can ask your Senators and Representatives to pass the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act”, S 299/HR 664.

Beth Brunton is a Seattle teacher, a peace and justice activist, and a PSARA member.

My Trip to Cuba

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

By Mark McDermott 

I recently spent 10 days in Cuba as part of a delegation led by Witness for Peace (WFP), a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. Its mission is to support peace, justice and sustainable economies by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices that contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Before I went, I checked out Cuba on the CIA and World Bank websites. The national income per person in the U.S. is 8 times higher than Cuba’s. Life expectancy in Cuba and the U.S. are identical. The CIA says a child born in Cuba has a 20% better chance of surviving than one born in the U.S. Why?

Our country invaded Cuba in 1898, 1906, 1912 and 1961. We supported brutal military dictators for decades while they maintained a “great investment climate for U.S. corporations.” I went to Cuba because my government has been waging an economic, political and diplomatic war (the Embargo) against this small country for 50+ years. I wanted to see Cuba for myself and form my own opinions about our nation’s policies toward Cuba.

Cuba is the only country in the world where Americans cannot legally visit as tourists. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, China, Afghanistan and Sudan – fine. Anywhere but Cuba. If you or I went to Cuba as a tourist and spent any money, we would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine and civil fines of up to $65,000. With very few exceptions, Americans can only go to Cuba by joining a delegation led by an organization licensed by the State Department. Our license request took 16 months. Why are you and I threatened with long prison sentences and huge fines if we want to see Cuba through our own eyes?

We visited a wide range of schools, religious organizations and religious leaders, museums, art galleries and studios, and attended a number of music and dance performances. We did not have a Cuban government guide with us and were free to go where we wanted in the evenings. We went all over Havana and spent two days in the countryside. A short trip and many strong impressions.

I have traveled extensively outside the U.S., but I did not know what to expect. We saw no homeless people. Virtually no panhandlers. The streets were safe even late at night. The people looked healthy yet poor. Very few cars, stores and restaurants. Very few police. None with the submachine guns that you see in other large Latin American cities. Virtually no graffiti. No sense of street gangs and potentially violent alienated youth. Many people were critical of some of their government’s policies and wanted a more open economy. At the same time, no one was willing to say they wanted a multi-party government. I think they feared saying this aloud.

One night as we wandered around, we had the opportunity to talk at length with two women about their hopes and dreams. We asked them if they would trade their universal health care, free education through grad school, access to culture and sports and a safe country largely free from violent crime in exchange for a higher standard of living and greater political freedoms. They both said: “NO! WE WANT BOTH! We see no reason why we can’t and shouldn’t have both. Our system has not had a fair test while your powerful country has its boot on our throat. When you go home, please get your government’s boot off our throat. Once it is gone, we can fairly test our system. If it can’t deliver both, then we will change our system again like we did in 1959.” They meant end the Embargo.

The American people agree that our government should change its Cuba policy. In a recent poll, 62% of the American people said they wanted all economic sanctions lifted on Cuba. Sixty-one percent want all travel restrictions lifted. Fifty-six percent want to normalize relations with Cuba, including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.

The time is now to end our country’s economic sanctions on Cuba. It is time that we as a free people are not denied our rights to travel to Cuba. This decades-old policy has not worked and we, the people, want it changed. If you agree, contact the President and your members of Congress and tell them to end the Embargo and the travel restrictions.

Cuba: A world apart and yet so close

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

By Leno Rose-Avila 

A world apart and yet so close. Recently I went to Cuba and found so many interesting aspects that I encourage many of our members and readers to go to this island country and see for yourselves.

Obviously seniors are taken care of better there than here in the states. They are given free housing and medical assistance. At the Bed and Breakfast where I was staying there was an emergency dental clinic that was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it is all free. For a developing country their citizens have great teeth.

But all is not perfect in Cuba. They still have a government that does not have full protection of human rights and still has long term prisoners which have never really received a fair and honest trial. But as you know we still control Guantanamo which has been the site of torture and long term imprisonment without the decent standards demanded under the universal declaration of human rights.

Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother who is now president, is opening Cuba up to more tourism, allowing more small businesses, and is looking for ways to build the economy. The Chinese are pushing the Cuban government to build up their tourism and make a bigger profit.

On my next trip to Cuba I will go to the eastern part of the country where I am told there is more poverty and more of the Afro-Cuban population.

The people were friendly and were willing to discuss Obama and his promise for immigration reform. I distributed many Obama shirts and other immigration rights information.

One Cuban gentleman said that Cuba may have too much government but that the United States may need more government.

One stark difference from other Caribbean or Central American Countries was the lack of weapons on the street. Havana was safe and it did not take assault weapons to do so.

There are thousands of tourists from all over the world. The tourist buses are nicer than the buses here in Seattle, their first class hotels are on par or better than ours. And while the Government owns most businesses the service is not bad.

As of January 14th any Cuban who has the money and permission from their job is free to apply to travel to any country that will have them. This will create new immigration issues for our Homeland Security office.

And it is a delight to see all the late 50’s Chevrolets and some other models from those years still prowling the streets but now running with Russian motors. There are not many vehicles in Cuba so I never experienced rush hour traffic.

The U.S. government does business with China which is a more powerful Communist country and yet we still have an embargo with Cuba… that needs to change to benefit all of us.

Leno Rose-Avila is Director of Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and a member of PSARA’s Executive Board.