By Donna Bader*
HAVANA TIMES – Last month I went to Cuba for the third time. I had been there ten years and then five years ago. So much has changed since my first visit. I was surprised to find Cuba bustling with tourists, a some from America, others from around the world.
When I arrived in Havana, I brought a suitcase filled to the brim with donations. Those donations came not just from me but from others in my community on the Oregon Coast. Even though they couldn’t make the trip, my neighbors wanted to help. I brought children’s clothes and toys, bandages, soaps, shampoos, kotex, glasses, and ibuprofen. I delivered them to the Sinagoga Beth Shalom because I discovered the synagogue ran a medical clinic that helped Jews and non-Jews alike.
I met briefly with the Director, Adela Dworin, to deliver my donations. I asked her about religious discrimination in Cuba, especially against Jews. She told me, “Cuba is a wonderful country. We are a community and we help each other. There is no persecution against Jews here.”
Could I say the same about the United States? I live in a country where hate crimes are steadily increasing. There have been vicious attacks against Jews and other minorities. I live in a country where children fear going to school may be a death sentence and worshipping in a synagogue could lead directly to one’s demise.
Once elated by President Obama’s actions in reopening the relationship between our countries with optimism for the future, the Cubans are facing harsher rules, as ordered by President Trump, who seems intent of destroying any success President Obama enjoyed. That includes Cuba. The Cubans see his new rules as an attempt to squeeze their economy by cutting out the tourism upon which they depend.
The Cubans cannot understand why they continue to be singled out when other countries – some of them communist and some ruthless dictatorships – practice lethal human rights abuses without consequence to far greater degree than anything done in Cuba. More than that, Trump seems to admire these bloody tyrants.
They do not call our embargo by that name. They prefer to use the term “blockade” because it doesn’t simply strangle one country. No, the blockade reaches out its tentacles to other countries who deal with Cuba.
Cubans are pragmatists. They have endured suffering for decades. The Cuban people are magnificently inventive in how to cope and make money. Years ago, a woman told me she wanted to visit Cuba while it was still a communist country and before capitalism took over. She felt the Cubans were “pure” and untainted by capitalism. I disagreed. I said the Cubans are better capitalists than we will ever be. Too late for a naive belief in purity. The Cubans know how to make a buck.
They also know that a government is not the same as the people. They are friendly toward US citizens. They understand our President does not reflect the values of visiting tourists. They find American tourists who visit their island are genuinely eager to learn about Cuba’s history and help its people. Traveling will do that.
The Cubans recognize there has to be a change in their economic structure. But I saw vibrant examples of emerging hope. Poor communities, fully aware of the decaying facades of their once beautiful buildings, have chosen to embrace them and turn them into art pieces. Murals abound. People’s voices can be heard in their art, dance, and music.
They appreciate the aid we offer because it does not come from an attitude of superiority. No, it comes from a heartful desire to help. We visiting US citizens fight the blockade in our own way.
I asked a few Cubans how they see the future? They have had good times and they certainly have experienced the bad times. These times never last either way. They know Trump will not always be President. That belief leads to a hope that another President will crack the door open wide and tourists will come spilling in, ready to boost their economy.
Americans will continue to find ways to help the Cuban people. And the Cuban people will continue to find ways to survive, and even thrive. One day Trump will be forgotten. Maybe not completely. He may well be remembered as the worst president ever and a man whose narcissism almost brought us to the destruction of the planet. (That’s something to be said for a man who habitually deals in superlatives… the best at being the worst.)
The Cuban people will continue to reach out to us and thank us for our support. That affair can easily be summed up in one of the most popular tourist experiences, hiring vintage convertible cars to tour around Havana. That experience brings together people who share an exhilarating adventure common to both… driving along the Malecon, the wind in their hair and with smiles on their faces, as they enjoy the beautiful sights of Havana. In that moment, language is not barrier. The color of one’s skin is forgotten. They are simply enjoying a shared experience that needs no words.
*HT guest writer