By Bill Hackwell – Jul 10, 2023
I was part of a team of Cuban solidarity activists who just delivered several tons of medical aid here that was purchased and collected by IFCO Pastors for Peace. The duffel bags with needed pharmaceuticals will be taken to the island with their delegation that is going for the July 26 commemoration to celebrate with the Cuban people the 70th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks, that culminated in the 1959 Revolution.
In the miles that our truck traveled I was able to reflect on all those Pastors’ caravans that began in 1992 and how defiant they were at the border crossings, challenging the US government over and over again while exposing the cruelty of the blockade that was designed and explained by Eisenhower’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Lester Mallory in 1960, who said in a secret memo, “Most Cubans support Castro, the only way to undermine that is to provoke economic dissatisfaction and hardship… through every means to weaken the economic life… denying Cuba funds and supplies with the objective of provoking hunger and desperation…” Nothing has fundamentally changed in the US orientation towards Cuba since that blue print was written.
The founder and leader of those early caravans, Rev. Lucius Walker, gave clear and consistent direction by first saying that the US government cannot tell us who are friends are, love is our license, and that our aid is primarily a symbolic challenge towards ending the blockade; demanding that Cuba should be able to trade like any other country without interference and draconian laws against it.
Lucius Walker’s vision is still valid but the reality of this new period has changed and our solidarity movement has to adapt by continuing to bring more and more young people to the island to see what the Cuban people are going through while maintaining their dignity and support for the Revolution. We also have to make a significant part of our work organizing material aid through collaborative efforts with a goal towards having real impact. This is economic warfare and every aspirin counts.
In an article in Resumen – English, Brazilian humanitarian writer and adviser to Cuba’s Food and Nutritional Plan Frei Betto, explains what is making living conditions in Cuba much harder, “at this point the effects of a set of factors that has hit hard the lives of the population are more evident: the genocidal blockade imposed by the U.S. more than 60 years ago; the pandemic; the climate crisis; and the war between Russia and Ukraine, suppliers of inputs, fertilizers and tourists to the Caribbean island.” Beto urges us all to intensify our material aid projects to our objectives because the accumulative effects of the blockade cannot be ignored or be on a list of things to do.
Meanwhile the US continues the big lies
Last Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez reported that US policy was responsible for “a shortage of drugs in Cuba that has created a lack of supplies for public health.”
On July 8 the US embassy in Havana issued a statement in response that innocently said that the embargo should not be manipulated as an excuse for the lack of medical care in Cuba and then added, “Yes, medicines can be imported into Cuba from the US! The US embargo on Cuba allows exports of US medical products, as well as other items in support of Cuban citizenship. The Department of Commerce license is easy to obtain.”
The embassy then doubled down on the lie by saying, “Did you know that since the beginning of the year the United States has approved almost $900 million in medical exports to Cuba? And last year, more than $800 million, doubling the figure for 2021. This shows that the embargo should not be used as an excuse for the lack of medical attention in Cuba.” Talk about turning reality on its head; the very definition of embargo (their term) is to prohibit commerce.
Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Cossio was quick to respond by tweeting back. “No, it is not true that the economic blockade has been eliminated or eased for medicines. The export of these to Cuba remains prohibited. Doing so requires politically conditioned and hard-to-obtain permits.”
Cossio went on to explain where the aid that does get to Cuba comes from, “What is exported consists basically of solidarity aid managed, under great obstacles, by friends and people with feelings of justice, who face the hostility and scorn of extremist groups of the anti-Cuban mafia that enjoy access and favors in Washington.”
The US taking credit for aid delivered by solidarity groups is nothing new and in the past they have been so brazen as to issue licenses after aid has been delivered to take credit for something they opposed.
Currently in the US there are several organizations working on important aid projects to Cuba that deserve our support. Here are just a few to consider helping out:
IFCO Pastors for Peace and their ongoing medical aid project.
The Hatuey Project that has a new campaign to provide medicines and equipment specifically for Cuban children with leukemia and lymphoma.
Global Health Partners that was instrumental in coordinating the shipping of 6 million syringes to Cuba during the pandemic, and is now in an urgent drive to send scarce anesthesia machines and sutures to Havana’s main trauma surgery hospital.
Puentes de Amor and Code Pink have an ongoing collaboration of sending powdered milk to all 22 pediatric hospitals in Cuba.