October 17, 2000

Caravan Spreads Cuban Culture

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Bongo drums heralded “Cuba Night” last night, a cultural celebration held to raise funds and show support for the Pastors for Peace U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment XI Caravan.

The event was sponsored by the Committee on U.S. Latin-American Relations and the Ithaca Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The Caravan will be passing through Ithaca for the week of Oct. 15 to 21 to collect donations for Cubans.

“The caravans are a grassroots effort, the success depends on local efforts like us,” said Daniel Fireside, former head of CUSLAR. “They give us a list of very specific items that they’re looking for. This time they’re focusing on appropriate technology and agricultural supplies.”

“We have a donation of two computers, a refrigerator and two solar panels lined up for the people of Cuba,” said event coordinator Cris McConkey.

In addition to raising donations, Cuba Night aimed to convey that human rights and aid should be respected regardless of politics, according to Fireside. The event challenged the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which has been criticized for not allowing medical supplies, aid or travel between the countries.

“We don’t believe that humanitarian aid should be used as a weapon of foreign policy which the current U.S. policy does,” Fireside said. “We also don’t believe that the U.S. government should be restricting citizens rights to travel freely, which current U.S. law does.”

Cornellians and Ithacans at the event donated money and items, and signed a petition to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D.-N.Y.) lending support to a bill that would loosen some of the economic sanctions.

“An overwhelming majority in the House voted not to fund the travel ban,” McConkey said, praising Hinchey for his efforts to renew travel between the countries. “[Hinchey] has done a lot.”

CUSLAR has a program that brings students to Cuba for academic purposes; licenses are issued by the U.S. government to those wishing to study through the program.

“I think the major issue that is on people’s minds right now is travel,” McConkey said. “We’ve build this event in part to present travel opportunities.”

CUSLAR also stressed that the people involved in sending aid to Cuba are not all of a single political view but rather are focused on a more humanitarian effort.

“People that participate in this have a wide variety of views on the Cuban government but our belief is that there shouldn’t be restriction on humanitarian aid such as food, and medicine,” Fireside said.

The ultimate mission of this week is to bring awareness and aid to Cuba. CUSLAR has made the effort to educate in the past by bringing experts from all walks of Cuban life.

“We’ve brought a lot of Cuban speakers here, not just people talking about politics but artists and philosophers and musicians, trying to bring a greater awareness that Cuba isn’t just Fidel Castro,” Fireside said.

Archived article by Leonor Guariguata