By Stanley Campbell
Cuba is gonna get our oil, though not delivered the way they like. BP’s oil spill should wash up on the Bay of Pigs just about now. Funny, that’s where our own 1961 CIA-led invasion washed up and was quickly defeated by the evil dictator Fidel Castro. The United States has economically embargoed the Caribbean island of Cuba since then.
Fidel confiscated the casinos and sugar plantations, which angered United Fruit Company executives and the Mob. The rich Cubans escaped to Miami, and now decide American foreign policy (at least how it pertains to Cuba).
Fidel has always enamored the political left. Not many left-wing dictators fare well against American hegemony. And Fidel was brazen enough to ally his meager little country with the Soviet bloc when the Cold War was hot. So, American lefties liked him for that alone. Never mind that Castro locks up artists and gays and anyone who disagrees with him.
But the embargo has done nothing to weaken the Communist grip, and may have strengthened it. Fidel can blame all his economic problems on the U.S. And the Miami Cubans can wail all they want, but they won’t admit any of the good things Fidel has done: provided the best health care and education of any Latin American country. Cuba has the healthiest and best-educated unemployed workers in the world. Cuban doctors are usually the first responders to any international disaster. Too bad they get paid less than Havana taxi cab drivers receiving tourists’ tips.
I’d like to see the U.S. drop the embargo and begin to trade with Cuba. Trade will loosen the communist reins, and not give them an excuse to throw people in jail. Cuba says the U.S. is waging “economic warfare,” and anyone who disagrees is the enemy.
So, American peace groups have been trying stunts to attract attention against the Cuban embargo. A group called “Pastors For Peace” sends medical and school supplies to Cuba (they started 15 years ago when there was a chance the U.S. government might drop its 50-year embargo). Pastors For Peace will be traveling through Rockford Saturday, July 10, on their way to Mexico by land, then Cuba by sea.
The local peace groups in Rockford and DeKalb are hosting a 6 p.m. program, free and open to the public. The Unitarian Universalist Church, Rockford, allows us to use their facilities to host the program. The church is at 4848 Turner St., four blocks north and east of Alpine and State, just before the back entrance to Rockford College.
The main speaker at the July 10 affair is the Rev. Thomas Smith, who serves as president of the board of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors For Peace, and has traveled with Pastors for Peace to Cuba on many occasions, as well as to Chiapas, Mexico. Rev. Smith was one of the members of the caravan who met with ex-president Fidel Castro on the 2009 caravan. Rev. Smith will share his important perspective on why we challenge an unjust law and will risk arrest crossing the border without permission.
A number of Americans wish to visit Cuba, myself included. And we want to help, so we support religious groups like Pastors For Peace. They buy vans and school buses, drive around the country collecting donations for the people of Cuba.
I’ve been to Cuba a number of times, often with religious groups, but never with Pastors For Peace. They travel more ruggedly than I. Pastors For Peace is looking for more fellow travelers, so you might fulfill your long-time wish to visit Cuba before McDonald’s fast-food places spring up.
You can also help drive one of their vans through northern Illinois, helping them pick up donations from other peace groups. As a way of publicity, I am donating some Cuban postage stamps and other souvenirs to donors. We can’t sell Cuban stamps (that would be illegal, according to the U.S. Treasury Department), but we can give them as gifts.
So, if you are interested, please send a donation to Rockford Peace & Justice at 201 Seventh St., Rockford, IL 61104, show up for the July 10 program, or call me at (815) 964-7111. Make the check out to “Pastors For Peace.”
The next day, they are off to Chicago, then Texas, crossing the border into Mexico, where they will board some sort of boat to take them to the embargoed isle of Cuba.
They have been stopped at the U.S./Mexico border. The United States government is spending money trying to stop trade with this upstart remainder from the Cold War. For some reason, the present administration doesn’t want to change U.S. attitude to the Castro regime (even though Fidel retired).
But, the island seems to be growing stronger. More countries are ignoring the boycott (though a foreign company trading with Cuba cannot trade with the U.S.). It’s almost as bad as the Iraq War: an ill-conceived idea that takes lots of energy, wastes people’s time and has little worldwide support is costing the U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars (if not billions in lost trade). But, with a little luck, maybe next year we’ll see you in Havana!
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the July 7-13, 2010 issue