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Historic Timing for NJCHL Sustainable Communities Delegation to Cuba

Historic Timing for NJCHL Sustainable Communities Delegation to Cuba

By:  Wendy Wither, delegation member, Montclair State University Masters Public Health Program

June 12, 2015

It has nearly been 35 years since the United States imposed the embargo on Cuba, a blockade that has affected the Cuban people in very detrimental ways. As U.S. citizens, we hardly think about this embargo.  It doesn’t seem to affect us personally, so why should we care? It wasn’t until I went on a delegation to Cuba through Witness for Peace, and fell in love with the country and its people, that my eyes were opened to the effects of the blockade. In this dispute over political differences, it is the people who suffer most and I‘m not just referring to the Cuban people.  We too have missed out on years of educational and medical exchanges. There is so much that Cuba has to offer and even more that the U.S. may learn from them in the areas of organic agriculture, sustainable communities, public health, and preventative medicine.

On this delegation, through cultural exchanges with Cuban people, I learned how the blockade has affected them and their families. The Cuban people we encountered, both for our delegation meetings and on the streets, were able to give us a full history of their country as well as their hopes for the future. On occasion, my eyes would fill with tears hearing how proud they are of their country and government, and how much they would like to see relations with the U.S. normalize. One message we received loud and clear on this delegation was that the Cuban people love U.S. Americans and while they want relations to normalize between our two countries, before moving forward they want to know our government will respect their government, national sovereignty, and way of life.

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Our delegation was in Cuba from May 24, 2015 to June 3, 2015. We were lucky enough to be there for two historical events. First and foremost was the removal of Cuba from the list of State-Sponsors of Terrorism on May 29, a list which they should have never been placed on to begin with. We were filled with joy seeing that our government is now recognizing that although there are differences between our government and policies, these disagreements do not necessarily mean that Cuba meets the criteria to be included in the list of State-Sponsors of Terrorism. Being in the country during that historic moment filled many of us with hopes that relations between Cuba and the U.S. will not just normalize, but that this will happen very soon.

The second event we were present for was the friendly soccer match between the NY Cosmos vs Cuba’s national team on June 2 at Pedro Marrero Stadium in Havana. Many of those in our delegation were present at this game, and it was wonderful to hear the stories about the experience. My fellow delegates said the energy in the stadium was high, regardless of the rainy weather, and even though the NY Cosmos were leading the match and ultimately won, anytime a goal was made cheers were heard throughout the entire stadium.

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This delegation has truly been a life changing one. Not only has it opened my eyes to what the real effects of the blockade are but I was able to learn from some of the most genuine people I’ve ever come across. We all felt so strongly about our experience in Cuba that upon our return many delegates have started to take action to make it known to our government, at all levels, that we want to see the end of the embargo and to continue normalizing relations with Cuba. As Ernesto “Che” Guevara said, “Seamos realistas pidamos lo imposible” which translates to “Let’s be realists, ask for the impossible.”