Friends of Cuba practice people-to-people foreign policy

Sixty people gathered at Spontaneous Celebrations for a Cuba friendship night on June 17. We welcomed the 19th Pastors for Peace Caravan traveling through Boston on its way to Cuba. Caravan participants, taking 15 different routes through the US and Canada, will deliver donated medical and educational supplies to Cuba as a challenge to our government’s travel ban and economic blockade. See Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization’s web site at for more information.

In November 2006, I visited Cuba as a travel challenger with Pastors for Peace. I celebrated Thanksgiving with the 89 US students enrolled at the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana. Cuba has made available 500 full scholarships to US students in exchange for their pledge to return home to work in underserved communities.

As someone who works in the healthcare reform field, it was profound for me to see a country with free health and dental care for everyone. In my job I constantly meet people who delay needed health care for fear of accumulating medical debt. A poor country like Cuba has made healthcare a priority while in our rich country we can’t even achieve universal coverage.

While visiting ELAM, I met students from New Orleans who had been consulted by representatives of the Cuban emergency medical teams as they prepared to depart for Louisiana to deliver badly-needed post-Katrina medical assistance. President Bush called it a propaganda ploy and declined the offer of help. That added another reason for me to become involved in trying to end the blockade and normalize relations with Cuba.

Traveling in Cuba made me think about cultural and athletic exchanges, too. Everywhere I went I saw dance performances, live music, art displays, sculpture and people engaged in sports and the arts. Why should our two peoples be denied the opportunity to share cultures and play baseball together?

While there, I met a lawyer named Roberto González whose brother René is locked up in Marianna, Fla. on the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage. I was told that René had gone to Miami to monitor and prevent terrorist activities of right-wing Cuban-American organizations in southern Florida. He and four other Cubans were arrested and convicted. I now correspond with these five men, all incarcerated in different states. I consider them political prisoners. People may go to to learn more about them. The most concrete help needed is to ask the State Department to grant visas so their family members may visit them.

People should also contact their members of Congress to ask for an end to the US blockade of Cuba. Last November, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly, 183 to 4, to condemn the US embargo of Cuba. We should, too!

Nancy Kohn
Jamaica Plain
The writer is a healthcare advocate, community activist and 20-year resident of Jamaica Plain. She has been to Cuba twice.

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