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Let Cuba Live
P.O. Box 245
To Cuba with the Friendshipment
by Crystal Cron
The Pastors of Peace Friendshipment is an annual caravan to Cuba that began in 1992. This year I had the privilege of participating in bringing one hundred tons of humanitarian aid from all over the U.S. and Canada to the island nation. One hundred people came together for this caravan to become a family, and to stand in solidarity with the Cuban people.
In the United States, there is a longstanding misconception about Cuba's history and its government formerly headed by Fidel Castro. We as U.S. citizens are led to believe that Cuba is under a dictatorship, and that its people are denied basic human rights. The reality, which I saw with my own eyes, is that Cuba is a thriving socialist nation with health care, education, and social services superior to our own, in spite of a cruel and immoral blockade enforced by the U.S. Government. While the U.S. government has attempted to suffocate the Cuban people for the past half a century by restricting billions of dollars worth of potential trade revenue, the Cuban socialist government has continued to stretch their budget across the entire country to provide for their people.
The caravan was truly a life -changing experience. The people I met on the caravan were some of the most loving and wide-awake individuals I have ever known. What made knowing them even more gratifying was that we were all together at once, in the same place, for the same cause. The collective strength that came of our unity was powerful. We had all spent two weeks on the road, in groups of around fifteen, traveling different routes, moving from city to city, teaching and learning about the blockade and the Cuban Five, and finally arriving in McAllen, Texas. We would spend three days together there preparing our minds for the border crossing and for travel with aid material through Mexico to Tampico. It was a beautiful time of communion. There was a sense of fellowship and of support not like anything that I've ever felt. I felt completely absorbed by this group, as if in a safe nest. None of the potential obstacles that we were warned about seemed insurmountable. None of it could penetrate the love that was in each of our hearts. We were determined to make it to Cuba and share this love with our brothers and sisters there.
Our night in Tampico, Mexico was a moving experience. We had traveled that day from Reynosa. A trip requiring five or six hours for an automobile took us 13 hours. Some of the 14 vehicles broke down, and we had to stop nearly every hour. We didn't reach the docks until 10:30 P.M. One can well imagine how tired we felt and how sore our backs were, after being in hot buses so long. Then, at the docks, it was time to move every item of donated supplies, 20 tons worth, from the buses to shipping containers for delivery to Havana. (The vehicles themselves made up another 80 tons of donated material.)
We were re-energized. Chains of us lined up from each bus to pass along item after item to fill the containers. There was loud chatter, laughter, and biceps building, and we were drenched in sweat. But the team work was inspiring, and it was for Cuba. We cheered after each bus was emptied. At 3:30, after some eating and hugging, we closed up all the boxes, enjoyed a song from our Mexican brother, and headed back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.
For many of us, this would be our first time to Cuba. Hearing from veteran caravanistas made the anticipation stronger! When we finally arrived, and I stepped off that plane, I was hit with a wave of the hot Cuban air. It was moist, green smelling and beautiful. It enveloped me, and even before I'd experienced anything more, I knew that I loved this place. We walked into the airport, and we were greeted with huge smiles and refrescos. There was a short and sweet welcoming ceremony for us, and then we were off. Our journey through Cuban had begun.
Over nine days we got to know our hosts at the different churches in Havana where we stayed. We attended dozens of cultural events – art exhibits, dance presentations, and music performances - and also panel discussions on education, healthcare, sexual health, and the economy.
For me, the most memorable discussion we attended was a very candid talk on racism in Cuba. While not as potent in Cuba as in the United States, Cubans apparently recognize that racism is internalized in their culture. The speaker called for challenging these structures. He emphasized that racism was an important issue in itself, and not the result of class differences. It was empowering to see people in Cuba facing racism head on, rather than, as our country does, claim we've defeated racism while disparities grow larger. He talked about the origins of racism within the family structure, and how this tends to be the place where racism is first introduced.
In Santa Clara, we had the opportunity to visit one of over 100 organic urban farms in that city alone. When we arrived, the farmers greeted us each with a freshly cut sunflower. There was a beautiful display of many of the different crops they grow in raised beds without pesticides. Crops are protected through various foreign plants that repel harmful insects. The blockade and the increased shipping costs it entails adds difficulties to importing food. Because of high fuel costs, non-organic farming fits less and less with Cuba's economy. Cubans are moving to organic, local farming that supports the food needs of the community.
Farmers' pride in the work they were doing was apparent. They explained the importance of having a connection with the earth, and knowing where your food comes from. This farm offers a program for local youth and university students to do farm work in order to gain skills enabling them to begin their own organic, self-sustaining farming.
Cuba is a poor nation. Its people struggle to stretch the limited resources they have, but they do it and do so collectively. Reacting to a cruel and quite unusual blockade, the Cuban people, to survive, came together in a way that was remarkable. They contribute to their society with dignity and pride, and the results reflect this. They are full participants in the shaping of the world around them. Cuba is not perfect, but with free education for all, nearly 100% literacy, no homelessness, free medical services for all, and the inclusion of people's thinking and ideas in creating and improving the nation, I would be proud to call it home.