Where the United States government sees danger, some American activists see opportunity.
For nearly the last five decades, the relationship between Cuba and America has been contentious. But now that an ailing Fidel Castro has ceded power to his brother Raúl, American activists say they want to change the dynamic between the two countries, largely by denouncing what they believe to be outdated U.S. policies toward the communist-aligned nation.
Nearly 100 people plan to spend the next month traveling across the United States and Canada as part of the 19th annual U.S. Cuban Friendshipment Caravan. Last week, the caravan made a stop at a packed Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain.
The goal of the caravan is to educate Americans about what those onboard say are the detrimental effects that U.S. policies have on Cuban society.
Leading the charge was Lisa Valanti, the founder and president of the national U.S.-Cuba Sister Cities Association and founder of the Pittsburgh Cuba Coalition. She has traveled to Cuba 20 times without applying for or accepting a license from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Valanti first traveled to Cuba in 1971 as a college student. She said she felt strongly then — as she does now — that the U.S. shouldn’t prohibit Americans from going there and seeing firsthand how U.S. policies are impacting the island.
Having grown up in a privileged, white community in the Midwest, Valanti says she became instantly radicalized after seeing Cuba’s extreme poverty and class warfare. For the first time, she said, she began to look at ways to not only bring social justice to Cubans, but also to marginalized Americans.
“As someone from the First World, it was unfathomable to see the poverty in Cuba,” Valanti said. “When I came back from Cuba, I realized that I lived in my own little world. I didn’t think about these issues before. I began to see class inequities and racism in a different light.”
In 1992, Valanti went back to Cuba, this time with Pastors for Peace, a ministry of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and the organizers of the caravan. The objective of the trip was the same then as it is today: to help communities caught up in the crossfire of world politics.
Valanti contends that current U.S. trade policies victimize both those Cubans living on the island and those in America.(p2)