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Pastors return from Cuba, call for end to longtime trade restrictions

Mike Desmond

Tne United States needs to restore normal relations with Cuba. That is the opinion of two local activists back from a summer trip to the island nation.

Vicki Ross and Marie Schuster of the Western New York Peace Center joined the 30th Friendshipment Caravan, traveling through Mexico to Cuba. The Pastors for Peace Caravan was organized by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. The two shared the highlights of their trip Monday evening at Canisius College's Science Hall.

Ross and Schuster visited much of the island over the two weeks. Both speak Spanish and said they were able to talk directly to ordinary Cubans, in limited time away from the organized schedule. Schuster said people seemed happy and satisfied.

"It was an emotional feeling of like, 'Oh. Because they have a more of a socialist culture, there's just a relaxed feeling.' People aren't as stressed, as worried, and you can kind of feel that looseness and sense of community in the streets. It's a very welcoming space to be in," Schuster said.

Ross said they met a lot of people.

"Going to different institutions, organizations, groups, community groups, governmental groups, all kinds of groups, all kinds of people who wanted to meet with us," she said. "One of the things they just wanted to tell us was how much they need for the blockade to be over because it's really interfering. They have enought poverty without that."

She said the two countries need to work together on issues like climate change, mentioning Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is working with Cuban doctors on a lung cancer vaccine and there could be more such collaborations if the "blockade" of Cuba ended.

"It's devastating. It's illegal. It's genocidal in its intention and it's been unsuccessful for 60 years. So enough is enough," Ross said, "because we are also suffering from a lack of exchange - with the Cuban people, Cuban scientists, meteorologists, the arts, we're missing out on the jazz, the ballet. There's so much that we don't have and that we should have in a better, more friendly relationship with Cuba."

The Obama Administration eased restrictions, while the Trump Administration has buckled down on the long-time blockade.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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