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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Recent Forum Brings Two Afro-Cuban Activists to UMB

The Africana Studies Department, College of Public and Community Service, the Students Arts and Events Council, The Black Student Center, Casa Latina, and the Feminist Majority all worked together to bring two Afro-Cuban activists’ voices to be heard on November 14 in the Healey Library. The visit was significant because the speakers, Victor Dreke Cruz, and Ana Morales Varela, did not uphold the stereotype of Cubans detesting their dictator, Fidel Castro, and longing to become American citizens; in fact, they shattered it.

Mr. Cruz, author of From the Escrambay to the Congo, a book about his military experience on Cuba’s behalf, was the first to speak. While the topic of the presentation was the Afro-Cuban experience, Cruz stated, ” I do not consider myself African-Cuban. I am Cuban. I love my country and as Cubans we are all bound together for social equality.” Cruz went on to explain that while Afro-Cubans have experienced their own problems unique to their race, such as the fact that it was against the law at one time for blacks and whites to walk together in the park, there has always been a social unity present for the poor, regardless of race. This social unity resulted from the fact that poor blacks and whites were both exploited equally by the upper class. In fact, Cruz said that while “strong racial tones were often present in the past, they were never at any point as bad as those experienced to this day in the U.S.” However, Cruz spoke of a “social phenomena” that has taken place within Cuba, in which equality amongst all races and women has been achieved.

Cruz went on to speak about how this phenomenon was achieved despite of the U.S. embargo, which has barred most U.S. imports to Cuba for the past forty years. The embargo, which forbids Cubans from purchasing any U.S.-manufactured products, including medicine, has cost Cuba $70 billion in revenue to date. As a result of the blockade, many Cubans have often gone hungry, which in turn has caused the Cuban government to become increasingly self-reliant. One measure was to create a system of rations.

Cruz explained that while this may seem arbitrary, “all Cubans have shared an equal amount of food.” Other social accomplishments Cruz cited concerning Cuba’s social reform are the lowest unemployment rate in the world, free national health care, equality for women, and the fact that 85% of all Cubans own their own homes.

Ana Morales Varela spoke next on the condition of Cuba. Varela spoke mostly about Cuban efforts for healthcare. One Cuban accomplishment concerning health care has been the creation of the Latin American School of Medicine. Doctors graduating from this school offer free medical care not only to Cubans, but provide care abroad in various African countries as well.

Among Cuba’s medical successes is the development of biotechnology such as the creation of vaccines for Hepatitis B, and for the B and C strains of Meningitis. They are also working on an AIDS vaccine, which they hope to have completed between 2005 and 2007. Yet, as Varela pointed out, the blockade has prevented many medical advances from happening in Cuba. For instance, malignant tumors are the second leading cause of death in Cuba, due to the fact that Cubans are not permitted to purchase U.S.-manufactured treatments.

Varela also spoke of Cuba’s effort to fight AIDS. Within Cuba, an AIDS program was created in 1986, which has been rewarded with a great deal of success. The three steps of the program are detection, treatment, and education. Cuba has also collaborated with 91 African countries and placed 50,000 Cuban comrades in 56 of those countries in an effort to fight the virus, which threatens the existence of African people. Varela stated that the goal of Cuba is to make at least 4,000 doctors, teachers, and psychologists available to Africans to support its citizens in their struggle against AIDS.

It is important to note that all of these accomplishments have been made despite Cuba’s status as a third-world country. In fact, lack of financial means is such an issue that a hat was passed around at the end of the presentation to help fund Varela and Cruz’s tour.

On November 10, 173 countries voted to lift the blockade on Cuba. The United States was one of only three countries that voted against lifting the embargo.