After 26 years working as a foreign service officer with the State Department, with most of that time spent in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, local resident Vicki Gray is ready for one more mission to represent the United States.
This time, she is headed to Cuba to help improve the relations between the two countries, after the United States announced in December that it would seek to restore some diplomatic and economic relationships with the island.
Sponsored by the grass roots organization CODEPINK, Gray, along with around 150 others, left last week for a special week-long trip to Cuba.
“I personally feel very strongly in people-to-people relations,” Gray said, explaining why she decided to take the trip to Cuba. “It’s important to let (Cuban) people know that Americans are not to be feared.
“Some of us are good folks,” she said smiling. “And we love you and we hope you love us.”
“To Cuba With Love,” is the theme of the delegation which includes activists, religious figures, environmental, health care representatives and members of the lesbian. gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community.
Gray, who is transgender, said that she is looking forward to speaking with Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, which advocates for the LGBTQ Cuban community.
Mariela Castro is the daughter of Raúl Castro, the current president of Cuba.
“(I’m) looking forward to meeting Mariela Castro,” Gray said. “She has done great work making life better for the LGBT community in Cuba.”
Gray visited Cuba in 2012, participating in services at Havana’s Episcopal Cathedral as well as having discussions at Havana’s Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Matanzas.
She is currently a deacon at Christ the Lord Episcopal in Pinole.
Gray said that this trip will be a bit different from the 2012 trip, as the delegation will speak with doctors who combat Ebola in Africa, meet with entrepreneurs about the new business possibilities, and interact with local people about cultural, economic, environmental, educational, agricultural and health care issues.
“This time, I will go to visit with government officials than church officials,” she said.
She said that during her 2012 trip, she was surprised about the level of poverty in the tiny nation.
“Everywhere I went, I saw the poverty, not just the old cars, the food and medicine shortages, the run-down buildings,” she said. “I could see that they were beautiful buildings with great promise.”
During her trip, Gray will also meet with one of the Cuban Five. In the late 1990s, five Cuban intelligence officers were arrested and convicted of illegal activities.
“The story you hear in Cuban about them is somewhat different than what we have told (here in the United States),” she said.
Gray said that she hopes to see an end to the embargo between the two nations.
“I’m a firm believer in the value of people-to-people exchanges in promoting understanding and improving relations among peoples and, therefore, jumping at this opportunity to reach out to the Cuban people during this ‘great thaw,’ Gray said in a pre-trip press release.
By John Glidden, Times-Herald
February 11, 2015
Contact John Glidden at 707-553-6832.