Code Pink activist returns from Cuba
Faith Butterfield, a local resident and activist, recently returned from a week in Cuba traveling with Code Pink, a female grassroots peace and social justice movement. Butterfield participated in the annual Cuban May Day celebration that drew more than a million people.
May Day is a massive celebration in Cuba, with workers marching with their colleagues to Revolution Square. Special cultural and musical events and fiery, motivating speeches from leading political figures are included. Butterfield participated in the Havana event, joining others at the Plaza de la Revolucion.
“I was impressed that so many people came together in such an orderly fashion with no pushing, shoving, name-calling or other outbursts,” she said. “I held one end of the Code Pink banner, while the founder of the group, Jodi Evans, held the other. It was truly a spectacular scene.”
Code Pink works to repeal the U.S. trade embargo that prohibits trade with Cuba and the travel ban that prohibits American tourists from visiting the island. It also works to help Cubans gain access to quality telecommunications and to allow them to import life-saving medicines.
President Obama announced in December 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba would seek to normalize relations, and in April 2015, Cuba was taken off the list of countries that sponsors terrorism, a list it had been on since 1982. Travel restrictions for Americans going to Cuba have been loosened but not removed.
“Everything we did was monitored and scheduled,” Butterfield said. “We were able to meet high-level dignitaries almost like one-on-one. This was to educate the Code Pink group. They seemed happy that we were there and are in hopes the trade embargo will be officially lifted by June 7. It is the longest trade embargo that the U.S. has ever enforced, lasting for some 51 years.”
Unable to trade with the U.S., Cuba traded with other nations. Still there are many things it needs from the U.S., Butterfield said.
“They need upgraded medical equipment,” she said. “Everything they have is antiquated. They need more communications with the U.S. They have Internet only in the universities. There is solar energy used in every doctor’s office and hospitals. They would like to import crystals from the U.S. to solarize the whole county. All their food is organic, and no pesticides are allowed. They have beautiful open food markets filled with organic foods
“It is interesting that no one, including foreigners, can own land in Cuba. Owning a car used to be against the law but not anymore. The cars they have are mostly American ones from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Pornography is considered to be a disease in Cuba, and debt is also illegal.”
Butterfield found the Cuban people to be resourceful and friendly, opening their homes to American visitors.
“They are welcoming and compassionate in spite of the poverty that many endure,” she said. “The hotels were modern, with swimming pools and bars in the lobby. They were packed because of the May Day holiday.”
The Cuban health care system stresses preventative health care.
“Each doctor is assigned to 130 patients, all living in the community where the doctor lives. He or she goes from door to door checking on people a minimum of four times yearly. The elderly and pregnant are given extra rations of beef. They have the lowest infant mortality rate in the world. The Cuban government prides itself on taking care of people from birth to death.”
One organic farm Butterfield visited served 100,000 people. The U.S. trade embargo and the collapse of the Soviet bloc forced Cuban people to grow their own food.
“Unemployment is illegal in Cuba,” Butterfield said. “Unless you are physically or mentally disabled, you work. Day care is mandatory from the first year of the child’s life.”
Butterfield said that many of the older buildings in Havana are crumbling, and the infrastructure is in the same shape.
“We were allowed to visit Old Havana, and the art was simply fantastic,” she said. “I visited the outstanding Bellas Artes Art Museum, but passed on the Museum of the Revolution. I would love to return and spend a lot of time in Old Havana.
“I was impressed to be able to examine some of the challenges facing the revolutionary island, as well as the problems caused by the ongoing U.S. trade blockade of Cuba. It gave me a different perspective.
“I hope we re-establish relations with Cuba and lift the embargo and allow Americans to visit the island.”