By the REV. CANON ALBERT OGLE
Notwithstanding the symbolic gestures of opening embassies and restoring diplomatic relationships between the USA and Cuba this summer, the more complicated work of repairing the economic and social damage caused by 60 years of ideological estrangement now begins.
It is still very complicated for American citizens to travel to Cuba and even more so for Cuban nationals to visit the USA. Banking and use of the Internet and phones are challenging, while the permissible categories for US travelers remain limited to 12 (including humanitarian, religious, and educational and cultural exchanges). My July 21st reflections during my first visit to the historic reopening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC, are in the article “Our man in Havana: Cuba’s role in LGBT rights, much more.”
I will return to Havana for a religious leaders’ conference in mid-October, which will give me another opportunity to understand the concerns and potential of the Cuban people and how the religious community can be the bedrock of any significant reconciliation.
I lived in Ireland and worked on reconciliation projects between Catholics and Protestants for many years. It was fascinating to see how thirty years of slow and meticulous engagement from many sectors, including academia, the business community, and a growing civil society, helped to create a climate where “shared future” became an agreed platform for Irish Nationalists and British loyalists. Northern Ireland is still divided sectarian community where children attend religiously separated schools and people prefer to live of their own religious and political outlook.
As an inquisitive young man, I also watched a divided Berlin move from a broken city, complete with wall, armed guards, and barbed wire, into something very different. It was not easy, even when the wall came down, for West Germans and East Germans to create a new, shared space. Despite the common language and city that was divided in living memory, the society had to go through a long process of healing and reconciliation.
We have largely forgotten the vital role the religious communities played in that process and an ending of the Cold War in that region.
Today, the “Berlin Wall of the Americas” surrounds an island that is only slightly farther from Florida (95 miles) than New York City is to my home in Millbrook.
I am still processing the many images I absorbed in Cuba from the amazing as well as dilapidated architecture to the beggars and other wounded human beings on the streets of Havana. In spite of all the difficulties, the Cuban spirit is alive and hopeful. I met many people my age who had known nothing else but living under the shadow of the embargo. Only allowed to go on vacation to other parts of the island, they have never traveled internationally. They want a different world for their children and grandchildren.
The effects of the economic blockade are tangible everywhere. Yet, there is enormous hope that Cubans can keep their universal education system and access to healthcare and also be able to earn a living. The average Cuban makes about $20 a month, so there is a huge black economy that makes up the difference between what one needs and what one can afford.
The churches, as the core of the civil society network, are in a unique position to be a catalyst for a good transition, assuming they do not become as corrupt as they became in Eastern Europe and Russia following the demise of communism. With lands, buildings, and reparations restored, the clergy have emerged as one of the best paid professions in countries like Macedonia, while the average citizen has only experienced a loss in income and in any sense of a better future. Berlin’s churches became equally estranged from their grassroots support when the money began rolling into their treasuries. Corruption can happen anywhere, even in church.
How can Cuba learn from other nations in transition? While Cuba’s faith community has been largely protected—one of the few positive effects of the embargo—from the negative impact of “Prosperity Gospel” theology, with its often sexist and homophobic underbelly, it will be challenging for this largely cohesive network for 50 denominations to remain uninfected by a new wave of the American creed of greed and false hope. They already know this and are preparing to deal with it when it comes.
These are complex issues, and it will take years of building trust and long-term strategies to ensure progress while minimizing exploitation. There is not a single side to the story of Cuba, and the success of the present opportunity will be measured by the different forms of economic development that eventually coexist. The churches have a lot of experience in developing cooperatives, managing micro-loans, and making sure policies do not increase marginalization and poverty or benefit the elite few. It will be instructive to hear their thoughts and hopes. Some of us may be willing to return in early 2016 to work in a deeper partnership, building on all the good that brings us to this that point.
Jamaica returns to San Diego
As a follow-up to last year’s two visits by Quality of Citizenship’s Angeline Jackson, the San Diego community will be invited to watch the new movie by Selena Blake, the director and producer of “Taboo Yardies,” about homophobia in Jamaica. (To see the trailer and watch a television interview with her, see “Taboo Yardies Interview CVM TV Feb 2014″ on YouTube.)
St Paul’s Foundation board member Lindy Miles told me:
“I contacted the San Diego LGBT Center’s staff member Aaron Heier, who booked the auditorium for us Tuesday night, Oct 20, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. We will show the 70-minute film and have a panel discussion afterward.
“The purpose of showing the film is to create awareness about the difficulties LGBT people encounter in Jamaica and to offer possible solutions. Angeline also hopes to raise funds for her organization.”
Lindy and her husband, Rick, will be providing accommodation and transportation for Angeline and Selena for the event. They will also be arranging a showing of the film in LA and in San Francisco and perhaps other cities.
PFLAG’s Patti Bowen will be handling just the local event in San Diego by advertising the event in its newsletter. The local faith community will also be invited to co-sponsor the event, which will also offer light refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. For more information on how you can help support this important work, contact Lindy at [email protected]