Rust Colored Hair -- segment from an essay draft, in-progress
Aboard the chartered plane from Cancun, Mexico, the Cuban band rocked the cabin, playing for we, the illegals, the ones who dared to defy the United States government’s prohibition against traveling to the shunned island 90 miles off the coast of Florida. A few dozen of us, gathered by Global Exchange to violate and repudiate the U.S. blockade. The sanctions. And for me, the refusal to allow a government to prevent me from visiting with people from another land.
This was the first of two journeys for me to Cuba during the mid-1990s. Our defiance on this one had a penalty, the threat of 10 years in prison and a $200,000 fine. We were felonious. Troublemakers. And many of us broadcast our intentions beforehand, including me, with a local television news report and write-ups in regional newspapers. The closing shot of the TV interview showed me walking away from the camera, along a Binghamton University path in upstate New York where I was working toward a Ph.D., conveying something dramatic, my guess. A troublemaker.
The plane landed and we debarked, many amazed. No stamps on our passports when we passed through customs. We boarded buses, were given flowers of welcome, and rode through Havana, stopping once for some deliberation between the delegation leaders, including Media Benjamin, now of Code Pink, and our hosts. When the bus door opened, I stepped out, alone, with my flowers, crossed the road, and gave them to an older woman among the onlookers. Spontaneous. Probably a transgression of some kind. I wasn’t showboating. I had a gift to pass along. Contact.
The trip became a gift, too. I wasn’t unfamiliar with so-called Third World circumstances, having traveled to Nicaragua twice, including to the northwest region along the Honduras border where the U.S.-backed contra forces marauded and murdered displaced Nicaraguans in the parched region, who chose to live in cooperatives, many of them radical Christian-based comunidades de base ecclesiales, thrown off their former properties by cotton and sugar plantation land thieves before the socialist Sandanista government revolutionaries came into power. That was history then, though. The Contra attacks were no longer necessary. The U.S. won. The Sandanistas were out of power. The base communities considered an aberration, condemned by the conservative Nicaragua Roman Catholic cardinal, the church. But a popular movement persisted despite that in Nicaragua. It wasn’t “communist” like the Cuban island. It was a means of survival, cooperative, collaborative in the midst of scarce resources, of a people who had known the feudal oppression of a dictatorship, the Somoza government.
Just a minute, though. Wasn’t it the dictatorial Batista government that Fidel Castro and his band of insurgents overthrew? And didn’t these usurpers seek assistance from the Eisenhower government before turning ultimately to Russia? By the time of our journey to Cuba, now entering its “Special Period” of increased impoverishment with the breakup of the Soviet Union? ...
(c) 2014 Wes Rehberg