With Cindy Sheehan
By Cindy Sheehan
February 21, 2008
Last year, on the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo
torture camp in Cuba, I had the singular privilege of being able
to travel there. Travel to Cuba by Americans is, of course banned,
but where in a "free and democratic" society does my
government get off telling me where I can travel, or not travel?
So, defying the incomprehensible ban, our group of intrepid anti-torture
and pro-justice activists set off from Cancun, Mexico to Havana
on Cubana Airlines.
In my humble opinion, it is imperative that we citizens of the
US look at anything that our government says, or does, with healthy
skepticism. Knowing that the Bush regime did not invent lying
and murder for profit, we can never go back to the days when we
believed that the USA was always right. If the US kills or oppresses
other humans, then it must be okay because "God Is On Our
Side." Especially when we have a "leader" who has
a hot line to a God that seems particularly violent and vindictive.
The anti-Cuban rhetoric has been prevalent from the establishment
since I was born.
So, after being an American for almost 50 years, I expected to
find a Cuba that was beat down and broken under decades of communism
and the dictatorship of "Comandante Fidel" who just
recently announced that he would be renouncing his role as president.
Even though I expected to find a depressed Cuba, I also found
it, again, very hypocritical of our government to normalize relations
with a very oppressive communist government of China, but would
not cut the nation of Cuba (which lies just 90 short miles off
of our coast) any kind of economic slack. It may come as no surprise
to people, but relations with Cuba have only grown worse during
BushCo's reign of terror.
After a few days in Cuba, talking to people on the street (who
are far more educated than the average American due to free university
education), I was amazed at how happy and healthy (due to free
medical care---which is good, since I had to avail of it myself
when I was there) everyone seems. We visited the medical school
which trains doctors from all over the world (including the US)
for no tuition costs with the only requirement being that a new
Doctor must work in a poor community for a certain number of years
after obtaining a license from the country where he/she wants
Since the "Special Period" in Cuba of starvation and
massive deprivation due to the collapse of Cuba's major trading
partner: the USSR; all agriculture in Cuba has been organic or
permaculture. Food is fresh and it tastes like food; not plastic.
One of the glaring differences in US/Cuban leadership is that
after Katrina, Cuban doctors and emergency medical technicians
organized to go down to New Orleans to help out, but the USA rejected
the offer, even though our resources were stretched paper thin,
economically and strategically, by the twin disasters of Iraq
However, during Cuba's "Special Period," all the US
did for our brothers and sisters down south was to strengthen
the embargo against Cuba by forbidding any subsidiary companies
that do business with the US to trade with Cuba. The Cubans managed
to eek out subsistence through conservation, rationing and ingenuity
to struggle through the Special Period. Cuban women are rightly
proud of the methods they used to stretch their family's rations
by, for example, grinding banana peels to add to food.
However, I did hear horror stories of fathers watching their
children slowly starve and cry from hunger. Cubans lost an average
of 20 pounds each during the decade of the Special Period"
which was roughly the entire 1990's.
When we arrived in Guantanamo, we found a small town of family
farms, (and large sugar plantations) chickens, horse and buggies
and horse-drawn wagons. The Internet connection was iffy and we
did not have hot water for showers, but I was struck by the difference
between the average life of Cubans and Americans.
If, like during the Special Period in Cuba, America had 80 percent
of our imports and exports curtailed, what would we do? Would
we have to dig up our concrete and plant crops to be harvested
sometime after we had already starved? Would we have riots for
food and other consumables? What would happen if our oil faucet
ran dry? It would be pure chaos, but Cuba survived conditions
like these due to their simple way of life.
If life in Cuba is as awful as some would claim then why do they
have a longer life expectancy than we do here in America, and
why is their infant mortality rate lower? Do we give up "quality"
of life for "quantity" of material possessions?
I live in a city now where homelessness is rampant whereas in
Cuba, homelessness is unheard of.
Is the "bigger, better, more at any cost" lifestyle
of capitalism more humane than socialism? In America our lifestyle
is obtained off the backs of so many around the world. We have
to ask ourselves: Is it it worth it to drive an urban attack vehicle
that guzzles precious resources and belches toxic waste?
I hope the trade and travel embargo is lifted from Cuba soon.
Cubans suffer from having to import medical supplies and other
goods from China and Europe, and we suffer from being deprived
of the opportunity to travel to a beautiful country where the
people are welcoming and generous with the little that they do
But with the notice that Fidel Castro is retiring after surviving
over 600 CIA assassination attempts, even Democratic hopefuls
parroted the corporate party line and there is slim chance of
a lifting of the US imposted embargo.
Since the USA has a detention facility on Cuban soil - where
we torture and hold humans in adverse conditions without the basic
human right of due process under the law - how can we condemn
Cuba for human rights violations?
After the fall of the Soviet Bloc, Cuba is learning to form positive
alliances with other countries in South America and I would challenge
our leaders to consider doing the same. Using our military to
spread corporate colonialism throughout Latin America has led
to the growth of populist governments (Venezuela and Bolivia for
example), and instead of trying to undermine these governments,
we should work with them to prove that we care more about humane
democracy and less about supporting oppressive governments.
We need an "open-armed policy" with our neighbors in
this hemisphere, not an "armed and dangerous" persona.
America is certainly perceived as a bully all over the world but
in the case of Cuba, it could not be more exemplified.
The US talking tough on Cuba is like a lion roaring at a mouse.
Reaching across the channel with fair trade and open arms will
go farther towards Cuba becoming more free and democratic than
strengthening embargoes that hurt families and only strengthen
anti-democracy and anti-American sentiments.