It’s time to change our warped view of Cuba: Guest commentary

I welcome the apparent willingness of the U.S. government to thaw its relationship with Cuba, and I applaud the exchange of prisoners between our countries.

However, I have been consistently disappointed and frustrated by reporting about Cuba in the U.S. press. There has always been a purely negative view of the country, and a complete blackout, in fact, on its impressive, very human-centered, development policies.

The Cuban people have done much to develop their country along equitable, progressive lines that American visitors find thought-provoking, and at times, heart-wrenching in their prioritization of the most vulnerable segments of society.

I have taken more than 300 Americans to Cuba, as an academic researcher and later as Eco-Cuba coordinator for the U.S.-based human rights organization Global Exchange. Not one of our American participants found the country they thought they would. It is not full of oppressed, downtrodden, emaciated people to be pitied.

On the contrary, Cubans are extremely proud of their particular model of development that for one has brought a single payer, cradle-to-grave, health care system to the island — to stay. Mothers and babies are cared for during pregnancy and afterwards. Children grow up in safe, nonviolent communities. Adults, young and old, are part of an economy whose purpose, although admittedly deficient, is to employ all people in meaningful, non-exploitative work. Cuba is at war with no one.

Cubans are also extremely proud of their educational achievements. They are coming on the third generation in their country to be educated, free of charge, in an internationally recognized school system where truly, no child is left behind. There are no “urban slum,” violence-ridden schools.

There are no forgotten rural villages in Cuba, filled sadly with illiterate children with no hope for the future. Not one. They are so dedicated to education, in fact, that they have disseminated their literacy project, Yo Si Puedo, to dozens of countries around the world. Several of these countries are now approaching full literacy because of that collaboration.

To undo 55 years of a virtual blackout in the U.S. press about Cuba is far too great a task for a newspaper commentary. Americans themselves need to take charge of the information they are receiving on this much-maligned country, a country that is actually seen as heroic and beloved by much of the world. Who knew? Maybe we weren’t ready during the Cold War. Maybe things weren’t bad enough in the United States to think outside the box on how to solve our problems. Unfortunately, however, our problems may be bad enough now.

Access to full-coverage health care in the U.S., the ability to go to college based on your brains and not your bank account, are now major concerns for tens of millions of American families. The security of not being homeless, or being over-worked (with little to no job security) just to pay for a roof over your head that you might never own anyway, is a source of stress for, dare I say, about 99 percent of us in America.

The ever-present worry of being a nation in seemingly endless warfare, and the baffling incongruency of feeling our weather changing, yet hearing powerful denial that it is really happening. Cuba has a fascinating perspective on all of these development problems, and many more.

We have a right to learn from others. We have a right to dream of another way. Not the Cuban way, but for an America that is bursting at the seams with creative, humane solutions to our problems. Yes, Mr. President, a change in U.S. Cuba policy is long overdo, but not for the reasons you and other politicians say. It is overdo because you can’t, and shouldn’t, kill ideas. Americans need to know the whole truth about our newest friend to the South, for indeed Cuba never was an enemy to millions of us.

Rachel Bruhnke, Los Angeles Daily News

January 2, 2015

Rachel Bruhnke is a board member of Witness for Peace/Southwest, a 25,000-member U.S. organization that seeks to change U.S. policy in Latin America through education and activism. She lives in San Pedro.

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