On July 13, Isel Calzadilla Acosta, the founder and coordinator of Las Isabelas (a lesbian and bisexual women’s organization in Santiago de Cuba) will be in Fresno. She will speak at the Pastors for Peace Caravan event Wednesday, July 13th, starting at 6:30 pm at the Community United Church of Christ, at 5550 N Fresno St., along with Gail Walker, director of IFCO Pastors for Peace. If you have questions about being LGBTQ in Cuba, this is a chance to find out the real situation.
DID YOU KNOW THE US BLOCKADE OF CUBA IS STILL IN EFFECT?
In spite of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and Obama’s presidential visit, the U.S. has not relaxed its efforts to cripple Cuba through denial of access to foreign trade and financing, wherever the U.S. can apply economic pressure. It’s a blockade, not an embargo – it is one thing to prevent a country’s own citizens and businesses from visiting and trading with Cuba and something else altogether trying to prevent other countries, their businesses, and institutions from doing so. If anything, blockade efforts have increased, especially in attempting to deny Cuba access to credit and financing from any financial institution. While token respect is paid to national sovereignty, in practice the U.S. still tries to control Cuba’s policies and economy, spending close to 50 million annually overtly and unknown far greater amounts covertly. Time has shown the blockade will not change Cuba’s collective determination to be free – will not “topple Castro.” The blockade’s only function is to cause suffering to a civilian population whose only offense is to have chosen a socialist economy and society and an internationalist policy not aligned with U.S. imperialism. For that, it still works.
Las Isabelas arose in 2002 as a group of lesbian and bisexual women in Santiago de Cuba – they felt the need to unite, to create links of mutual aid, to form an organized community, to overcome stigmas and social prejudices, and to open up space for thought, work, and investigation.
Isel Calzadilla Acosta writes:
“History shows that ignorance leads us to commit errors and injustices. Sexual education is everyone’s right, but we have the obligation to collaborate in the clarification of subjects surrounding lesbianism, which have as yet little available information. We must free ourselves from false morality, from fear, from repressive prohibitions, and break the silence. Our position as women and citizens who are equal and diverse, with the freedom to express ourselves and to defend our sexuality, leads us to carry out activities throughout our province, in all areas of our city, and our society.”
A TOO-BRIEF HISTORY OF GENDER DIVERSITY IN CUBA
Cuba officially recognizes and respects diversity, with laws against workplace and other forms of gender discrimination, with gender change surgery available free as part of the national health system, with openly gay and lesbian people able to serve in the military since 1993. There is an active anti-homophobia campaign and an annual island-wide celebration of pride in gender diversity. That was not always the case in Cuba. In the effort to find a working alternative to corporate capitalism there was official, hostile, and discriminatory attitude toward homosexuality early in the revolutionary experiment. Many influences led to this, including soviet-style Stalinism, traditional macho, homophobic, and misogynist societal attitudes, U.S. cultural attitudes due to colonialization, and religion. Those injustices have been recognized and regretted, although many of those who suffered feel more apologies are due. Cuba has tried to learn from its mistakes rather than justifying and perpetuating them. Discrimination against religious persons has also been recognized as wrong and has been reversed.
“IGNORANCE LEADS US TO COMMIT ERRORS AND INJUSTICES.” – ISELA CALZADILLA ACOSTA
A TOO-BRIEF HISTORY OF PASTORS FOR PEACE
Pastors for Peace was created in 1988 when IFCO (Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, founded in ’67) director, Lucius Walker, was with a study delegation in Nicaragua on a ferry boat with 200 Nicaraguan civilians. The boat was attacked by Contra forces armed and supported by the U.S. government. Two people were killed and 29 wounded, including Rev. Walker. Undeterred, he organized the Pastors for Peace project to deliver material aid to support the victims of aggression in Latin America and to campaign for a more just and moral U.S. foreign policy in our hemisphere. Caravans began to go to Central America. Lucius reacted to the tightened blockade of ’92, hardships of the special period in Cuba, by organizing the first “Friendshipment Caravan” to Cuba. He was told, “but that’s illegal.” His response, “If there is a law that forbids me to love my neighbor, I want to break that law.”
This is the 27th Caravan to Cuba. Previous Caravans have focused on bringing aid, as well as advocating for change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. The aid is a gesture of solidarity, a drop in the bucket of blockade-created shortages. As a physician, fluent in Spanish, with many friends in Cuba, I’ve been there more than 15 times and have visited hospitals, both with the Caravan and on my own.
EFFECTS OF THE BLOCKADE
Here are some things that are in short supply, blockaded, and prevented from being sent or sold to Cuba: treatments for children with bone and retinal cancer, antiretroviral drugs for children, prostaglandin E1 for premature babies with congenital heart disease; these are commercialized under U.S. patent, like over half of the major drugs on the market since 1970. Sevoflurane, an inhalation anesthetic for children, and other inhalation anesthetics, testing reagents for diagnosis of congenital hypothyroidism, neonatal respirator parts, infusion pumps and accessories, x-ray machine parts, and indwelling ports for chemotherapy in children are also needed.
Some other prohibited goods: pacemakers and batteries, transplant and chemotherapy drugs, materials to make prostheses, cochlear implant batteries, parts for ventilators, monitors, blood gas machines, anatomic mapping equipment for finding foci of arrhythmias for ablation, radiation therapy materials, surgical and especially ophthalmological instruments, dentistry tools and implant materials, parts for Braille machines. Oh, and medical books.
Fatigued neonatologists work taking shifts breathing by hand for tiny, almost translucent, premature babies while a working respirator is searched for. Kids with leukemia have to be stuck again and again for treatment because no indwelling central venous ports are available. No one could view these situations firsthand and allow them to continue. These stories are not about equipment or shortages or even foreign policy. They are about the people affected and about the people who try to do something about it. I’d like to suggest that you are those people. We, together, are the people who try to change a bad immoral situation into one with respect, justice, and human kindness.
THE PASTORS FOR PEACE CARAVAN IS ABOUT LIFTING THE BLOCKADE
As people of conscience, we travel to Cuba without a license as an act of civil disobedience. We are calling attention to the U.S. policy of the blockade, using denial of essentials, including medicines, as a political weapon. We are working to change that policy, to campaign for a more just and moral policy toward Cuba and Latin America, one based on mutual respect rather than domination, repression, and sponsorship of terror. Each Caravan is people coming together to enact an alternative foreign policy, a people’s policy rooted in solidarity and social justice.
PLEASE JOIN US
The Caravan will gather in Fresno on July 13 at the Community United Church of Christ, 5550 N. Fresno St. (between Bullard and Barstow) from 6:30 to 9 PM. We will share potluck food, including typical Cuban congrí, and Isel Calzadilla Acosta will let us know what is happening in Cuba, while Gail Walker tells us about the Caravan. Local residents Gerry Bill, Juan Rafael Avitia, and Leni Villagomez Reeves will be on the Caravan this year, locally sponsored by Fresno Center for Nonviolence and Fresno WILPF. Ask your questions, share experiences, food, a little music, and a lot of people power.
Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local activist who has many ties to Cuba and is the doctor for the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
More info at https://ifconews.org/
LET THEM KNOW – YOU WANT THE BLOCKADE LIFTED!
President Barack Obama/ White House switchboard
Senator Barbara Boxer
Fresno 559 497-5109
DC 202 224-3553
Senator Diane Feinstein
Fresno 559 485-7430
DC 202 224-3841
Representative Jim Costa
Fresno 559 495-1620
DC 202 225-3341