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  • Peggy Simonsen

Impressions of Cuba

I just returned from a humanitarian trip to Cuba- the only way Americans are allowed by the US government to go there. I was with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee- which is focused on humanitarian aid, substantially for migrants, around the world. We work with selected NGOs in countries most affected by climate catastrophes, humanitarian crises and ineffective government help. UUSC provides funds for emergencies, but also assists with longer term systemic change. For example at the US border, they provide legal and translation services, help to re-unite families separated by the failed US immigration system, and security.

In Cuba, we met with partners from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras who gave presentations on the work they are doing with indigenous people in each of their countries. Their circumstances are dire-extreme poverty, corrupt governments, lack of opportunities and environmental degradation. The reasons we gathered in Cuba were because it wouldn’t be safe for us to go to those central American countries nor would it be safe for our partners to have us visit there. But this way, partners from the three countries could safely meet with each other too. The planners chose Cuba because it was centrally located for all those converging, but also for the Stewardship Circle members to learn about the damage the US embargo on Cuba is causing the people of Cuba. Their economy is in shambles, people can’t get enough food, there are few jobs, and the embargo is serving no purpose for US foreign policy. President Obama reduced the embargo, but Trump reinstated it, and nothing has been done to improve relations since.

In spite of this, the Cuban people are resilient and welcoming to us Americans. In addition to our work, we enjoyed an exuberant Salsa performance. When I sent a photo of the dancers, my son posted, “My mother is clubbing in Havana; what is your mother doing?” We explored Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad (a World Heritage Site) and a bit of the countryside, heard a spectacular chorus, and saw the history of the revolution on display.

Before we left, the travel agent told us that US dollars are not allowed in Cuba, so I got Euros, expecting to change to Cuban pesos. But just weeks before our trip, that all changed and Cubans are happy to get tips or purchases in US dollars. All the vendors on the street are saying, "One dollar!" for everything from pastries to handmade crafts.

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." — Henry Miller

Here are some of my impressions in Cuba.

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