August 1997, Volume 4 Nr.12, Issue 48
The Catholic Worker is a newspaper which is published seven times per year and is the organ of the Catholic Worker Movement. Founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker Movement which began
...in 1933 is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person. Today over 120 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.
The Catholic Worker subscription price is $0.07 per year or one penny per issue - hardly covering the cost of postage.
In the June - July, 1997 issue, Jeremy Scahill writes a compelling article about the laws which tighten the noose around a people. Few Americans know about the laws and of those who do, few have read them nor are familiar with their contents. Yet, the laws have made the United States stand alone in the world, a nation unto itself, separated from other countries who see our actions as immoral, extraterritorial and akin to throwing an adolescent temper tantrum. Scahill goes further. He states that,
I have often wondered why more of my fellow countrymen have not wondered, about why we spend so much time and energy wondering about events such as President Clinton's alleged dropping of his pants in the presence of Paula Jones or, Paula Jones' alleged photo ops for skin magazines. Think of the person-hours spent on the O.J. Simpson trial alone! Thousands and thousands of hours of TV coverage entertaining America in "the trial of the century." Yet, so little, if any time is spent on covering policy and policy makers who directly and adversely affect the lives of millions.
I do not believe that US people prefer to be like ostriches, as the cliché goes, with their heads stuck in the ground yet, they are. We know so little outside the scope of that which the media present. Why is that? Perhaps, the ostrich syndrome is something we take on through the very nature of what our econimic system hides.
Capitalism is, after all, very good at hiding its contradictions. The soccer balls, for example, that we buy on sale in K-Mart, are not advertised as items made by child slave labor in Pakistan. Nor is that information prominently displayed in the prospectus that the soccer ball company mails to prospective shareholders.
The Ostrich syndrome is thus, another contradiction, in fact, by which capitalism defines and hides itself. We then absorb the contradiction as part of our individual personality and national unconsciousness. Capitalism prefers it that way.
The laws that Jeremy Scahill writes about lead to the decline of a nation's food supply, which in-turn increases the need for medical supplies while at the same time, denying the very same medical materials. Scahill states,
The laws which the Catholic Worker article chastises are the Torricelli Act (1992) and its tightening through the Helms - Burton Act (1996). Both of these laws come on top of the US embargo of Cuba which has been in place for the past 37 years. The embargo took effect in August, 1960 as a response to Cuba's nationalization of 26 of the largest US companies doing business in the country.
The Torricelli Act, was passed in 1992. Also called the Cuban Democracy Act, this law,
The Helms-Burton Act, called the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD), was passed in 1996. This act regards an alleged Cuban disregard for human rights as its justification, stating that the Cuban economy experienced a decline of 60% in five years attributable to "37 years of Communist tyranny and mismanagement by the Castro government." It makes no mention of the collapse of the country's major supporter, the Soviet Union or the original US embargo. Cuba has in fact lost econmic ties to the top two world superpowers.
The main issue of contention with the US seems to be free elections in Cuba and the replacement of Fidel Castro through the election process before the embargo can be lifted. What I do not understand is why we do not take a similar stand toward the People's Republic of China or to Saudi Arabia? China also has a communist system of government while Saudi Arabia has no elections; women's rights do not even include the right to vote, drive or walk side-by-side with a man on the street.
Every country has human rights abuses - even the United States. There is famous case of Rodney King. Last week, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was beaten and sodomized with a toilet plunger by numerous members of the New York City police department.
Perhaps, if there were a country as much or more powerful than the US than the US is more powerful than Cuba then there might be an embargo against us as a consequence of our human rights violations. We are quite robust at reporting and rating other nations as to their human rights record. Who reports on ours? What would they say?
It is important for thinking people to realize that each of our perspectives is tainted by the politics that we consciously or unconsciously call our own. That being said, even the least politically aware and savvy individual can see that the justifications for our treatment of Cuba is the pot calling the kettle black.
When I was a youngster in grade school and then again as a teenager in high school, I remember being given social studies assignments to the affect of, "What does freedom mean to me?" Most students' work contained the themes of free speech, free assembly and the right to travel and do what they want. "To be what I want to be", was a common refrain. I suggest however, that freedom may be defined in a myriad of ways. What passes for freedom on the surface may easily be a diversion from the repression and oppression that lies underneath.
Take for example a typical US family with a medical crisis a chronically ill child. The father may have a great healthplan as a benefit of his employment. The family has a mortgage, car loans, school loans, etc. The mother has to work. This "middle class" family is doing fine, making ends meet. The father's freedom to change jobs, move or start a business are severely curtailed for fear of losing his family's medical insurance coverage. He is trapped in the system. What is worse is that it will be almost impossible or highly unlikely that the child will grow up with any insurance company giving him medical coverage when he's an independeny adult.
What form of freedom has its citizens, on a daily basis, worrying about losing their jobs, their incomes or their homes? What we look forward to in our old age is having our life's savings (if there are any) taken away by the medical establishment by the ever-increasing privatization of the nursing and medical industry. We will work till a ripe old age (if we can find jobs for old folks) and have our bodies warehoused by corporations until they or our spirits give out.
On July 26, 1997, I faced some of my personal fears and attended, along with our daughter, Guinnevere, the XIV Festival of Youth and Students held in Havana. There are issues one can disagree with in Cuba. All of the island's human rights violations cannot be blamed on US imposed threats on the country's sovereignty and national security. Too often, however, that excuse has been used by the US as a pretext for getting our way.
What I found in Cuba was beautiful people, who like us, love life, love to eat, party, sing and dance. They go to work and they believe in and love their country. They, like us, want a decent life for their children. But they, unlike us, do not worry about childcare, medical care, education or what happens to them in their old age. These social services are provided free of charge through a national universal social system. Surely, there are concerns that Cubans have, concerns that many of us might not wish to exchange. Each of us should be allowed, however, to live in the system we want without interference.
There are more teachers per capita in Cuba than any other country. The patient-to-doctor ratio, according to Dr. Orfilio Peleaz Molina is 83:1. Dr. Peleaz is the world renowned foremost researcher and director of the Central Ophthalmologic Institute in Havana and Cienfuegos. The centers are exclusively dedicated to understanding and treating the degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentaria.
Cuban research institutions have developed a vaccine against meningitis-B and hepatitis-B. They are currently in the first year of a four-year testing period of an AIDS vaccine. Cuba provides these vaccines around the world free of charge. The Cuban medical care system treats 14,000 children, victims of Chernobyl, on the island free of charge and has recently volunteered to treat children who are victims of the volcano eruption on Monsterrat.
I can only imagine what the dedicated Cuban scientists and researchers might accomplish given the same access to information, tools, techniques, medicines and equipment that the rest of the world has. Tools that they do without because of our stubbornness - the long ago outdated cold-war embargo.
It is my contention that belief in a system makes one secure within the belief system. Tolerance is proof of conviction. Not only does the embargo (what the Cubans call the blockade) not achieve the desired results, it prevents our convictions from being put to the test. Unless we are either not convinced, or are afraid that our convictions will fail being challenged, why not put them to the test?
While speaking to delegates in Cuba, a young US Communist told me that her experience and understanding of Communism gained from her participation in the festival convinced her to re-evaluate and dismiss her own Communist and far left ideas. By denying each side access to the other, the US-Cuba embargo prevents the mediation of opposites and limits each country's ability to be their best in arriving at a solution thus too long perpetuating a crisis that need not be.
I find it fascinating that in January, 1998, the Pope will visit Havana, Cuba. Millions of people will greet the Pope and take part in the mass. They mostly will be Cuban (the vast majority of Cubans are Catholic), yet many pilgrims will come from all over the world. Perhaps, thousands, even tens of thousands, will come from the United States.
On August 17, the New York Times reported that the Clinton administration is considering doing away with the embargo for the duration of the Pope's visits. On August 20, 1997, Washington gave permission for the Archdiocese of Miami to arrange a cruise with 1,000 people from the United States to take part in the Pope's visit to Cuba. In essence, "pilgrims" will be allowed to travel to Cuba. The administration does not even want to handle the logistics of issuing licenses to the pilgrims, placing the bureaucratic burden on the Cubans, who for the most part, have no problem issuing visas for Americans.
Such bold action highlights more troublesome contradictions. How can a 37-year embargo of such major proportions be brushed aside so easily? Perhaps, the writing is on the wall. Perhaps, beyond the hard-nosed, stuck-in-place-and-history, members of Congress and the administration, there are those who adhere to the Christian principles they so adamantly profess. Perhaps, they are beginning to believe enough is enough. Consider that the US pilgrims to Cuba will be by far the largest delegation to visit Cuba since the embargo began. The Pope has previously stated that he does not believe in the embargo of innocent people. In a 1997 poll, for the first time, a majority of Americans believe in ending the embargo and lifting all travel restrictions.
Pastors for Peace
Reverend Lucius Walker, a found of Pastors for Peace, spoke to the US delegation in Cuba during the Youth Festival. He said that on many occasions throughout US history, challenges to the established order, i.e. breaking the law, was necessary in order to achieve the kind of change that history would show was correct, righteous, necessary and commendable. Such occasions of civil disobedience include the Woolworth's cafeteria sit-in where African-Americans dared to sit in whites only lunch counters; Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat; the integration of schools in southern states; the woman's suffrage movement; the anti-Vietnam war movement, etc. Reverend Walker, a kind, generous, compassionate man from Demarest, New Jersey, believes that that attendance at the XIV Festival of Youth and Students, is such event.
Pastors for Peace is an international organization which takes a critical look at US policies in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean. Pastors for Peace is an ecumenical project which believes, "Anyone who works for peace with justice is a 'pastor' for peace". From time-to-time, Pastors for Peace sends a caravan of humanitarian aid to Cuba.
On January 31, 1996, the United Customs Service seized humanitarian aid the computers that were destined for INFOMED, Cuba. INFOMED is an organization responsible for developing and maintaining a medical database accessible by hospitals and research institutions on the island and throughout the world.
300 used computers were confiscated and 20 people forcibly arrested. A standoff continued at the Mexican - US border. On February 21, 50 members began a hunger fast. Five members continued the fast for 94 days, possibly the longest fast in history. On September 19, 1996, the fast ended with the return of the computers. They were delivered with other humanitarian goods in the 6th Pastors for Peace US-Cuba Friendshipment. Major items donated in the Friendshipments include school supplies, an ambulance and a school bus.
The next Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan is expected to take place sometime in early 1998. Pastors for Peace sponsors many educational and travel opportunities to Cuba. Upcoming travel includes:
Why do we know when and with whom President Clinton plays golf and who attends the White House coffees? Why do we not know that Cuba's infant mortality rate is 6.7 per 1,000 births, which is twice as good as Washington, DC, the capitol of the richest nation on Earth? Why do we not know that hundreds of Cuban doctor's offices are eligible for the United Nation's Certificate for encouraging breast feeding which has led to 96% of all infants receiving mother's milk as the best form of nourishment and source of naturally occurring antibiotics? Why do we not know that the Ophthalmologic Institute in Cuba is the only institute in the world solely dedicated to the understanding, research in and treatment of retinitis pigmentaria - with high rates of success? Why have so few of us heard about the longest hunger strike in history, 94-days, taking place on the US - Mexico border last year?
I can only speculate. I suspect that some of the reasons include apathy brought about by the teaching since birth of the notion called rugged individualism. Rugged individual places the emphasis on the "I" as the center of the universe. Not only do we experience the world alone; we suffer alone, sulk alone and die alone. We prefer it that way. Don't we?
Though we think it much easier to be a flesh-and-blood island of one, we are mistaken. It is this mistake which causes us untold personal suffering which we then try to mitigate by foisting it upon others - by isolating them. We thus isolate ourselves from each other. We do as a nation to Cuba, what we as individuals do to each other.
Perhaps, the world seeing Karol Wojtyla and Fidel Castro together will determine that if these two men can come together, in at least a gesture of mutual respect, a Catholic and a Communist, then possibly the United States, a very powerful country, will have grown up enough to realize that it does not any longer have to be a disgruntled bully.
All of us have been part of past actions that today we might not approve of nor wish to repeat. Nations are no different. In an attempt to prevent others from repeating their mistakes we need not repeat our own. An open door between nations will help differing societies achieve a steady-state harmony that is lasting and just. That which keeps out also prevents getting in. The embargo makes losers out of everyone.
The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has to start with each one of us?"
...why the things are what they are, how the things would be if they were as they should be, and how a path can be made from the things as they are to the things as they should be."
At every turn, I am surprised at the intimacy of all we do here. Whether it's a flight, a drive, a boat outing, or just hanging out, there's a feeling of family. It comes most likely from the Cubans' isolation. Again I ask myself, "Why do we assume that a country like Cuba, in its isolation from a growing world, is less well off than the rest of us?"
The Nobel Prize represents this fisherman's struggle, not unlike the one most Cubans engage in daily. No wonder Ernest Hemingway means more to them now.
[Ed. Note: Ernest Hemingway gave his Nobel medallion to the Cuban people in the 1950's.]
Catholic Worker Roundtable. [http://www.catholicworker. org/roundtable/] Internet. Accessed, 10-August-1997
CNN. "Miami Archdiocese Chartering Cruise Ship for Pope's Visit to Cuba". [http://cnn.com/WORLD/ americas/9708/23/ AP000065.ap.html] Internet. Accessed, 20-August-1997.
Cuba Solidarity Web page. "Project INFOMED USA -CUBA". [http://www. igc.apc .org/cubasoli/] Accessed, 24-August-1997.
Hemingway, Mariel. "Papa's Nobel Prize". [http://mungopark. com/exp/july/dispatches/container.asp?day=8&dispatch=7] Internet. Accessed, 24-August-1997.
Miller, Tom. "Heavy Medal". [http://mungopark.com/ exp/july/ dispatches/container .asp?day=8&dispatch=7] Internet. Accessed, 24-August-1997.Scahill, Jeremy. Catholic Worker, "US Law Further Tightens Noose on Cuban People." June - July, 1997, p. 3.
© 1997 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski