President Barack Obama will pay a historic visit to Cuba in the coming weeks, becoming the first president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. Twenty residents of New York's Capital Region recently returned from a trip to the island nation.
WAMC's Dave Lucas was at the Empire State Plaza today, where they shared highlights of what they experienced and learned after traveling through eight of Cuba's 15 provinces.
They call themselves the "People to People" delegation, a cross-section of citizens who believe the U.S. and Cuba can learn much from each other and benefit from normal relations. Pepe Rossy is with the group "Albany Cuba Solidarity." "Although the embargo was intended to isolate Cuba, it is the United States that has ended up being isolated, as demonstrated by 24 consecutive years, in which most every member of the United Nations General Assembly, including the strongest allies of the United States, have voted to condemn the embargo against Cuba."
The locals were impressed by the quality of medical care in Cuba and advances researchers there have made in biotechnology and genetics. Mira Peck is a scientist, author and chemical engineer who grew up in socialist Poland and held an executive position at BASF Corporation. She says lifting the embargo will be a game-changer. "Cuba could have access to advanced U.S. equipment, while the U.S could learn how to reduce its medical costs, and more significantly, benefit from Cuba's expertise in brain mapping, lung cancer prevention and advanced wound care."
Longtime area socialist-activist Jon Flanders took more than 1,300 photographs of Cuba; people always ask to see the ones of old cars. "There are two kinds of old cars, the Americans everybody likes, and some of them are really fixed up and some aren't, and then there are the Soviet-era 80s Ladas that are all over the place. Between the two of 'em, they create a lot of pollution. Havana, you distinctly smell exhaust fumes in Havana, and it's due to these old cars. We all think it's wonderful and picturesque. For the Cubans, I'm sure they'd prefer to have more modern vehicles if they could get a hold of them. And that's again the embargo."
The group sees the embargo as a failed attempt by the U.S. to force Cuba to go back under the control of corrupt dictators who answered to American corporations and organized crime syndicates.
Amani Olugbala is a Black Lives Matter organizer who came to Albany from Brooklyn 10 years ago. She was impressed with the Cuban people, admires their activism, and feels the U.S. shouldn't punish the nation for deciding to govern itself. "Cuba is an example of international solidarity for young people, who are like learning about Malcolm X, Fidel, kickin' it together, sharing ideas and learning from one another. I feel like all those examples are just - and - people about Cuba knowing about Black Lives Matter, without access to the same kind of internet materials that we have here, I think it's just a strong statement in solidarity, and just keep up the work that is necessary and is continuing."
According to a 2002 survey of 11.2 million Cubans, 1.1 million described themselves as black, while 2.8 million considered themselves to be of mixed racial heritage including some African ancestry.
The Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba has been criticized in the GOP presidential primary, but long-time progressive advocate Mabel Leon of Schenectady disagrees: "We say President Obama, use your power to lessen the pain on the Cuban people, and we say to Congress, lift the embargo."