Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba Exposes the US Inhuman and Criminal Blockade of Cuba
Interview with three Pastors for Peace Caravan 2007 Participants from Vancouver
By: Alison Bodine
“There are 20Million children sleeping in streets everyday, not one of them is in Cuba!”
Since 1992 the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba has worked to end the US Blockade on Cuba by bringing people and humanitarian aid from the US to Cuba in defiance of this unjust and immoral law. Over the last 18 Caravans thousands of people have had the opportunity to learn more about Cuba and the US Blockade through the outreach and education campaign by Pastors for Peace. The 2007 Pastors for Peace Caravan left Vancouver on June 30th and continued through the Western US, until meeting with 140 other Caravanistas in McAllen, Texas, and continued on to Cuba. On board were three young Caravanistas from among other participants from Vancouver. Sophie Ziner, on her third Caravan was a Route Speaker and Coordinator. For both Nita Palmer and Max Tennant this was their first time on the Caravan.
Fire This Time sat down with all three Carvanistas to discuss their experiences on the Caravan both in the US and in Cuba and to find out more about what they learned to use in the struggle for social justice here in Canada. For more information on the Caravan, please see www.ifconews.org or attend the full report back taking place Mon. Aug 13th at Trout Lake Park in East Vancouver at 7pm, organized by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba.
FTT: Sophie you have been on the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba three years in a row, can you tell us about the impact of the Caravan on people from the US you met along the route, and overall its role in Cuba solidarity work in the US?
Sophie:The caravan is an interesting project because it takes Cuba to all parts of the United States. Truly the Pastors for Peace Caravan is the only Cuba solidarity action that happens in the US that brings such a huge number of people and goes such a vast amount of places. A lot of people in the US are very frustrated with the US war drive in Iraq and other political issues and bringing the ideas of Cuba and the Cuban Revolution has a profound impact on ordinary and working people in the US.
FTT: Crossing the border this year from the US to Mexico was very easy compared to other years, can you describe the feeling you had going through the border and also the reasons why the US essentially gave you the thumbs up?
Sophie: Diane Baker, a reverend on the Caravan, likes to say that this project is like water dripping on a rock. It might seem that the rock is impenetrable but we just keep on dripping in a consistent way and eventually the rock will break down, because water always wins. This is the 18th Caravan, 17 other caravans have crossed the US border and successfully brought thousands of tons of aid to Cuba. This year when we crossed the border homeland security and US customs met us and 12 computers were symbolically detained, not confiscated. Our idea of why the US chose this course of action is that they really needed to make a symbolic gesture against the caravan.
Nita: As a first time Carvanista, the feeling going into the border crossing both going from the US into Mexico with aid for Cuba and the reverse challenge on the way back is really a feeling anticipation because you don’t really know what is going to happen at the border. Whether it is going to be a struggle and a 93 day hunger strike, like on previous Caravans, or whether it will be a breeze, like this year. Within the whole caravan people felt like this year it was a big victory, as it would have been if there would have been a big struggle with the US government.
FTT: Max, this was the first time you ever set foot on Cuban soil, can you tell us what you were thinking about as the plane first landed and your first impressions of being in Cuba?
Max: I’m really scared of airplanes and people may know that because of the blockade Cuba doesn’t necessarily have the ability to obtain the same airplanes that there are in North America. But the airplane we were in and the fact that they made sure everything was so safe, I have never felt so comfortable. When I got off the plane I went through immigration, the attendant said something about how I have the same birthday as Fidel Castro, when he looked at my passport, this was my very first impression.
On the way from the airport to where we were staying I didn’t see any homelessness, I saw everyone was well dressed and well fed; I didn’t see any billboards advertising anything except about the gains of the Cuban revolution. Instead of big mansions I saw large homes broken into apartments. Actually I remember coming form the airport and I was just flabbergasted like, whoa, I don’t believe it. That first night I was not thinking about it straight like, I kept having to say to myself, wait Cuba DOES prioritize for humanity.
FTT: You all also had the opportunity to visit a “Home for the Third Age” in Cuba, Nita can you tell us about your experiences there?
Nita: I didn’t really know what to expect going into the visit. The thing that really struck me was the amazing difference I saw in quality of life for the residents of this home compared to the quality of life for most seniors in Canada. Nursing homes in Canada that I have been to are really more like storage for people rather then homes. In San Vicente all 12 women were over 37 when the Cuban revolution triumphed in 1959. Which means that they were women that had families and jobs, if they were able to, at the time of the revolution and so they had a very good chunk of time to live under the conditions in Cuba before the revolution. Every one of them was so dynamic and so excited about life at 85 and 90 and nearly 100 years old, I found it really inspiring and I think it really is the most human reflection of the gains of the Cuban revolution.
One woman we met who used to be a professional singer. She got up for us and sang a beautiful song called “Cuba Que Linda Es Cuba.” After she finished singing somebody asked her to compare her life now to how it was before the revolution and she kind of laughed and said, “I can’t do that, there is so much to say.” But she did say, “the fact that we are able to live so well and for so long is completely due to Fidel and to the revolution and anybody who doesn’t like it should leave Cuba.” I think that this sums up very well the gains of Cuba for seniors, women and all people.
FTT: Sophie, throughout this years Caravan you had the opportunity to meet with young people involved in the Hip Hop community in Cuba, can you tell us more about those experiences?
Sophie: Hip Hop is a form of art and expression that all over the world is coming out of, and has a history of coming from, young people who are marginalized, whether they are in Palestine or the Bronx in NYC. Hip Hop truly has always been a voice of people fighting for social change. Hip Hop artists and people involved in the hip hop community in Cuba are in a very unique situation. No Cuban you meet would tell you that just under 50 years of revolutionary change in Cuba has wiped out all of the contradictions and all of the problems that centuries of colonization brought to Cuba. In the mid-90’s during the special period in Cuba, Hip Hop began to gain a lot of momentum in Cuba, especially in Havana and the eastern part of the island, amongst young people, especially Afro-Cuban young people. In the presentation that we had in Havana province by a woman named Magia, an MC with the group Obsescion, also the director of the L’Agencia Cubana del Rap, she explained how people who are involved in the Hip Hop community, youth that are involved in Cuba, are in a really unique position because Cuban hip hop artists are able to say push the gains of the revolution further instead of saying we are completely oppressed and marginalized under the government of the country where we live, like in the US and Canada. What other country has a Ministry of Hip Hop? Why does the Cuban government have a Ministry of Hip Hop? Because the Cuban government knows that hip hop is a tool for advancing the gains of the Cuban revolution. It recognizes that to push issues like those for LGBTI in Cuba, for women’s rights, for the rights of Afro-Cubans there need to be tools like Hip Hop.
FTT: All three of you spent eight days in Cuba experiencing the revolution, can each of you tell us what are the lessons and experiences you have brought back with you that will contribute to your fight for justice here in Canada?
Max: It is just amazing to see that even though there is a blockade, that Cuba represents the Battle of Ideas that can spread into other countries. That there can be housing for everyone. That there can be food for everyone. All this when Cuba generates much less wealth and capital then North America. In Canada people should have the right to housing, to education, to healthcare. Cuba is something that gives people hope. In Cuba for the first time in my life I felt like people had the opportunity to progress as a human beings. If we don’t fight for change here in Canada when we return then we have let Cuba down.
Nita: We were in Cuba on the 26th of July, the celebration of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and I got up early in the morning to watch the celebration on TV. At the end Raul Castro was speaking and you could hundreds of thousands of Cubans all waving little Cuban flags chanting “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!”, that was a moment of really believing it for me, of saying this is true! Looking at the example of Cuba and the people coming together, it is really true that united we won’t be defeated. We need to bring that back for our struggle for Cuba and social justice here in Canada.
Sophie: The fact that Cuba has not only been able to survive these challenges, the blockade, a revolution in a country with massive illiteracy and poverty, the fact that it has not just survived but thrived I think is attributable to the fact that the most valued characteristic in Cuba is a capacity to change and to fight for change. Cuba has been able to flourish and make the gains it has because the leadership of the revolution has always used that criteria and that powerful force.
FTT: Thank you.
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