02/09/13 - al.com (blog) - Annual humanitarian visit to Cuba over the next week
The Birmingham News
As many readers know, I take annual humanitarian mission trips to Cuba with
my Virginia church, Beaver Dam Baptist Church of Franklin. I began my
latest journey this morning.
Beaver Dam pastor Richard Peerey first made a connection with Cuba and a
church there in 1989 and he has traveled there dozens of times. This is the
22nd trip Beaver Dam members have made as a group, and the 12th for me
traveling with them.
I know the kinds of stuff a few readers will say, because they've said it
before when I've written about these journeys to Cuba:
-- "Of course you go to Cuba. You're a liberal, Democrat, socialist,
Actually, the government in Cuba is pretty conservative. It's not much
-- "Comrade Joey, why do you ever come back if you hate Alabama so much?"
I love Alabama, but I think we can do better than the bottom five in most
every national survey, rating and study, and I'd like to see us try. --
"How's that socialism thing working out for the Cubans?"
As far as the "socialism thing," not so bad in some ways. Cuba has very
good medicine and education. The country exports doctors. The literacy rate
is much higher than in Alabama -- close to 100 percent. Life expectancy is
a little longer in Cuba than in the U.S.
But Cuba is poor, and many people have trouble getting enough food to last
the month between rations. For many Cubans, there is stuff to buy, but no
money to buy it with.
Many of the economic problems can be blamed on Cuba's high-control,
little-incentive economic system; but a lot of the problems can be blamed
on the failed U.S. economic embargo. Petty politics, not any real national
security issue or threat, keeps Cuba on the U.S. embargo list. Where human
rights are concerned, China is more extreme in many ways, yet our
government adores China. And the Chinese adore Cuba, too. Because of our
stubborn absence, the Chinese have filled the vacuum in Cuba with
appliances, vehicles, technology, oil exploration, machinery and other hard
Many U.S. states trade with Cuba -- or, at least, sell products there --
including Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and
Industries, in 2012, Alabama accounted for approximately 60 percent of the
$1 billion in U.S. exports to Cuba. About one-fifth of all U.S. poultry
exports go to Cuba, most of which comes from Alabama poultry producers. A
lot of timber products go from Alabama to Cuba. It's big business, and it
could be a lot bigger without the embargo.
Our policies toward Cuba punish only ordinary, hardworking Cubans who
struggle to feed their children and themselves and obtain needed medicines.
And clearly our policies haven't forced a government change in Cuba, just
as they haven't in communist China or Vietnam.
I'll be gone from this blog all week, though I have scheduled a encore post
for Wednesday about Cuba's tobacco industry that was first published last
And after I return, I'll be writing again about my latest experiences in
Cuba -- hopefully through the eyes of the wonderful Cuban people.
We don't get involved in politics on these trips; these visits are about
relationships and people-to-people exchanges. I hope I can continue this
annual tradition for many years to come.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, is a community engagement specialist
for al.com and The Birmingham News. Reach him at email@example.com.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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