Opinion » Guest Commentary
On Aug. 3, I, along with 142 other members of the Venceremos Brigade, marched across the Peace Bridge connecting Fort Erie, Ontario, to Buffalo, N.Y. Garbed in our orange T-shirts and armed with the chants we had just spent two weeks in Cuba singing, we bellowed our arrival to the U.S. Customs authorities.
That bridge crossing was the culmination of an eye-opening, two-week experience. In that time we volunteered alongside Cubans in urban gardens, attended a series of lectures and showed our solidarity by bringing educational and medical supplies to hospitals and schools.
Since 1969, the Venceremos Brigade has been traveling annually to Cuba through Canada in defiance of the travel ban, asserting our constitutional right to travel. In that time, more than 9,000 Americans have seen the island and society. For the last seven years, this act of civil disobedience has been made publicly in an attempt to overturn the travel restriction and bring down the embargo.
This act of civil disobedience is underpinned by the long legacy of resistance to unjust laws in our country, the conviction that Cuba has the right to self-determination even in opposition to U.S. interests and our belief that a mutually beneficial relationship is possible with the Cuban people.
As a recent graduate of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar program at Ithaca College, I spent much of my college years learning about the long struggle for social justice in our country and around the world. Thanks to the program, the profound relationships I developed with students and faculty and our international seminars, I became a firm believer that the well-being of people, not economic growth, is the only real measure of success when it comes to development. This conviction pushed me to explore alternative societies, like Cuba.
As the social upheaval of the economic crisis and the ongoing health care debate intensify, Cuba becomes increasingly important as a living, breathing alternative to our current trajectory. Cuba represents a different approach to the development of a nation and a society — one that we could learn something from if we could overcome the entrenched antagonism that separates our peoples.
Cuba has committed to a socialist model of development — one that emphasizes human development over economic development. Regardless of our political ideology, the public services available in Cuba should be reason enough for us to pay close attention, especially since our government has failed to provide a fraction of these services, despite our preposterous affluence. Studies show that the plethora of social services the Cuban government offers has virtually eliminated homelessness and unemployment. Life expectancy, literacy and happiness levels are all higher than in the U.S.
Our conflict with Cuba, and socialism in general, is attributed to differences in values. We value democracy and economic and personal freedom. Socialism, supposedly, is inconsistent with those values. I, too, am a proponent of these values, but being in Cuba forced me to conclude that there are more important foundations upon which freedom and democracy must be built. Without basic
economic and human rights — the right to a job that pays a living wage, to health care and education, to housing and basic sustenance — freedom and democracy are moot. The debate between market and state-run economies is an important one, but before we can reach the point of honest debate we must ensure that all people can lead healthy, happy and dignified lives in either system.
I did not travel to Cuba in the hope of inspiring a socialist revolution here in the U.S. My only hope is that we can lift the barriers that prevent our two societies from learning from and supporting one another. In this increasingly globalized world, it is more important than ever to have a vantage point from which to evaluate ourselves, and Cuba is one of the few places left on Earth that has developed outside the global capitalist mainstream.
Emiliano Acevedo ’09 plans to travel with the Venceremos Brigade next year and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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