Midcoast Peace and Justice Group



Midcoast Peace & Justice Group

committed to positive change through non-violent action


Steve Burke's Letter to The Free Press Editor - 4/12/2012

Dear Editor, I appreciate Thomas McAdams Deford's insightful reportage, especially his recent articles on the Mideast, but when he writes about things that are happening on his own side of the planet he seems, at times, a good deal less informed. In addition, his last column contained a couple of paragraphs on Cuba that were worthy of Fox News.

Deford criticizes the Pope for refusing to meet with a handful of Catholic dissidents while in Cuba. The primary reason for this denial is that the Pope is content with the rate of progress being made, in regards to religious freedom. He also felt that the sentiments of the dissidents were not shared by a significant portion of the population.

It's true that Cuba has had a long and contentious relationship with the Catholic Church. The Catholic hierarchy was on the wrong side of the Cuban Revolution. In 1959 church leaders fled the island along with Batista's henchmen and a lot of the Cuban one percenters. The Cubans shut down the churches and nearly dismantled the Catholic religion. The government was officially atheist from 1962 to 1992. That's all changed as a result of internal and external pressure and common sense. Today Cuba is a secular state, Cubans can be openly religious and members of the communist party and priests hold seats on the National Assembly. Church attendance, while still low, has rebounded and in Havana, a new Catholic seminary recently opened. As requested by the Pope, Cuba just made Good Friday an official holiday.

Deford engages in some wistful speculation about what might happen if Obama lifted the embargo. He can't. The embargo tightening “Cuban Democracy Act” of 1992 codified the embargo into law. This act was strengthened by the “Helms Burton Act” in 1996. A president can tweak the embargo but he or she can no longer end it, that requires congressional action.

Deford's understanding of the relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is so shallow you can see the rocks. It seems to go like... if Hugo Chavez dies of cancer the billions he sends to the Castro brothers might be in jeopardy and wouldn't this be a wonderful opportunity to “wean the regime away from it's narrow extremist base of international support”

Cuba receives funding from Venezuela for specific projects, oil subsidies, construction materials and oil field development equipment. Cuba supplies Venezuela with doctors and medical personal and free medical training for Venezuelan students at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba. Where ever you travel in Venezuela you see Cuban, or Cuban trained, doctors. This arrangement has made it possible for Venezuela to create a healthcare system, similar to Cuba's, that provides free health care for all.

It would be instructive to hold Deford's “narrow extremist base of international support” up to the light of reason, for closer examination. In 2011 the United Nations General Assembly voted 186 to 2 in favor of ending the US Embargo. Only the US and Israel voted to maintain the embargo, now that's what a narrow base of extremist support really looks like!

Young people from all over the world attend the Latin American School of Medicine . The student body numbers 10,000 with 1500 new enrollments per year. 29 countries are currently represented, including the US. There is no tuition and only one condition. Upon graduation the young doctors have agreed to return their countries and practice medicine in an under served area for 2 years.

In Cuba and Venezuela health care is a priority. Both countries have come to understand that there's a connection between an individuals health and the health of a nation. They also believe that instead of being treated as a commodity to be bought and sold health care needs to be considered a basic right, free, and available to one and all.

If you'd like to know more about Cuban, Venezuelan solidarity, there's a wonderful opportunity. Steve Brouwer has been making his way around the state discussing his new book, “Revolutionary Doctors” - “How Venezuela and Cuba are changing the World's Conception of Health Care.”

His final venue is Thurs, April 12 at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine - 96 Harlow St. - Bangor - at 7:30PM.

If you miss the presentation, you can still read the book.

Steve Burke - Warren



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