Interview with a “Friendshipment” Traveler
By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
This week the Pastors for Peace caravan came back into the US over the bridge from Reynosa. They had successfully traveled to Cuba and back, traveling via Mexico because the US virtually forbids direct travel to Cuba. There were 130 people in the caravan, and my family went to meet some of them, who were staying a day at the Catholic Basilica in San Juan. They all seemed excited that they had made the two week trip, but they were also tired and eager to get back to their homes in various parts of the country.
This is the 18th year the “Friendshipment Caravan” has traveled through Mexico to Cuba, deliberately breaking a mean-spirited US ban on travel there. It delivered several truckloads of humanitarian goods (crutches, stethoscopes, clothing) for the Cuban people, who have been suffering because of the economic blockade. Although the group was initially hassled at the border crossing into Mexico, with U.S. border police searching through the caravan for something or other, the guards found nothing dangerous and the trip went smoothly after that.
I know one of the people who made the trip this year, a young woman who recently graduated from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Caroline Hallman of McAllen is from a family of peace and justice activists, knows a lot about Latin America, and granted me this interview.
Author: Reflecting on the people you met and observed, what is the attitude of Cubans toward Americans?
Hallman: Having traveled with Pastors for Peace, which is a highly regarded organization in Cuba, we Americans were greeted with abundant warmth. Maybe things would have been different had I been just a tourist, but for the most part, Cubans are very accepting of Americans.
It’s our government that the Cubans strongly disapprove of, but they are smart enough to understand that the American people are not like our current administration. If anything, it is probably hard for them to understand why the average American is so ignorant about her government’s immoral actions against other countries, especially Cuba. It’s even hard for me, being an American, to comprehend why my fellow citizens aren’t pissed off and marching in the streets.
Author: Cuba is painted askew in the American press. And most of us know little about life there. Do the Cubans seem proud of their country or embarrassed by it?
Hallman: I have never met such a loyal and proud people. Latinas/os in general have the reputation of being a very close-knit people. We are warm, loud, and extremely familial with each other, but in Cuba this goes a step further. The Cuban people are strongly united. They are united in their heritage and their history, and most importantly, since they are all so well educated, they know their history really well. They are especially united in their recent history (the Revolution) and the struggles they have had to face and overcome together, like the 40-year-old U.S. embargo.
Despite all the setbacks and having been demonized to the rest of the world by the U.S., they each proudly have taken part in moving their country forward. They built this truly participatory government with their bare, injured hands, from the ground up. How could they not be proud?
Cubans see, on a daily basis, the fruits of their labor. They see it in the children walking home from school every day, well fed and educated, on their way to participate in mandatory extra-curricular activities such as sports or music lessons. They see it, for instance, in the educated women on their way to work where they belong: as professors, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and not as the prostitutes they once had to be in order to merely survive under Batista’s pre-Revolution regime. [Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were leaders in overthrowing Fulgencio Batista’s exploitative government in 1958.]
Author: What were some of the places you visited there?
Hallman: The highlight was attending the graduation ceremony at The Latin American School of Medicine. I witnessed the graduation of 2,100 international medical professionals, eight of them brand-new doctors from the U.S. The world just got 2,100 new doctors and nurses! That is so powerful. And they will all go back to serve the people who need and deserve medical attention the most. They will return to their third world countries — and the third world parts of the U.S. — to heal the poor. The world gives a collective “Thanks” to Cuba, and to Fidel Castro for developing this famous medical school and its programs.
Author: Any closing words?
Hallman: I’m hooked! I hope to see you on the bus next year.