Last Dec. 25, Bloomfield Life published an article by Lori Ann Palmieri, associate professor of nursing at Bloomfield College, who wrote about her trip to Cuba, sponsored by the Center for Global Justice.
The article was entitled “Cuba’s organic revolution; on trade: Table is set; sit down.”
She focused on the development of organic agriculture beginning in the mid-1990s – why and how it happened. She said, “Two decades ago, Cuba was the first country to convert from industrial agriculture to organic agriculture, and today it is converting a major part of its economy to food cooperatives…. As a nation, we can learn a lot from the Cuban people…”
I was inspired by her article and was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Cuba this summer with another organization, Global Exchange. I joined 27 other people on this tour; our tour guides for the 10 days were an American and a Cuban, and in each city we visited, we had additional guides.
We traveled the entire length of Cuba from the east – Santiago de Cuba – to the west – Havana. We stopped in cities and towns along the way, where we spoke with community leaders as well as ordinary people. We visited museums, community organizations, a clinic, an urban vegetable and fruit garden, a famous cemetery and a huge craft market. We had a presentation from an urban architect and city planner on the future of Havana.
Before leaving for this trip, we were given background information to read so we would be able to get the most out of our visit. This, plus information learned while in Cuba, made it clear that there is much about this island and its relationship to the United States and the rest of the world that many Americans know little about.
Here are some highlights of what I experienced and learned:
* We felt safe walking the streets. Guns are illegal, and stores cannot sell them. As a result, gun violence is not a problem.
We saw very few beggars and no homeless people sleeping in the streets. All Cubans have a home or apartment, but they could be crowded with two or three generations living in a small space.
* Health care is free and accessible to all, which is why the people and especially the children looked healthy. We visited a clinic where we learned that every neighborhood has access to a family doctor, a nearby clinic for issues that the doctor can’t solve and a hospital.
Life expectancy today is 77.7 years (up from 62 years before the 1959 revolution), which is amazing for a poor country and almost the same as the United States (77.9).
Cuba is the second highest country in the world for the number of doctors per 1,000 inhabitants (5.91); the United States has 2.3.
* There are no U.S. mafia-run gambling casinos or brothels as there were before the revolution. They were shut down.
* The literacy rate is 99 percent. Before the revolution, it was about 66 percent.
Education is free from kindergarten to the university level, including the pursuit of doctorate degrees. Any student finishing college is required to do two years of community service.
* Drug addiction is not a problem. Cuba’s border patrols are vigilant.
Schools have drop-out prevention programs that work with marginal students and their parents to keep them in school; strong block associations keep track.
For more than decades, the United States has imposed an economic embargo against Cuba, the longest blockade in history and opposed by almost every other country. It has been enforced by laws like the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.
This law restates past laws that the goal of the United States is to destabilize the country and overthrow the Castro-led government.
The CIA has funded and trained Cuban exiles and others who infiltrated the country and committed acts of sabotage and murder against Cuban citizens. Hundreds of attempts were made to assassinate Fidel Castro. U.S. companies were told not to trade with Cuba; other countries’ companies who did were denied trade with the U.S.; a travel ban existed for most Americans until recently when certain groups were granted permission.
We can benefit from trade with Cuba. For example, they have developed drugs that can keep lung cancer from becoming fatal and diabetic-infected feet from being amputated. However, the embargo prevents them from reaching the United States.
Hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars have been spent trying to change the Cuban government, denying its people access to U.S. medicines, metals and cement for construction, and other essential products. This has resulted in untold suffering, since trading with countries in other parts of the world incurs higher freight costs – too much for a poor country.
We even have a military base on Cuban territory – Guantanamo – where prisoners have been tortured and detained without charge for many years. How would we like another country to try to overthrow ours or have a military base with human rights abuses on our territory?
The Obama Administration has admitted that our past foreign policy has failed. We once again have an embassy in Cuba and more groups of Americans are allowed to travel there.
However, the embargo persists; you can go to CubaCaravan2015.org/blog on efforts to end it.
The writer is a Bloomfield resident and vice chair of the Essex/Passaic Green Party.