October 31, 2008
Solidarity Without a Visa: Pastors for Peace in Pinar del Rio
Once again members of the Pastors for Peace organization defy the US
blockade against Cuba, this time to help out with the recovery effort
in Pinar del Rio.
RONALD SUAREZ RIVAS
With the same determination that they have handled the most absurd and
brutal pressures of the US government to keep them from delivering
humanitarian aid to Cuba, members of the Pastors for Peace
organization have joined the recovery effort in Pinar del Rio.
"THE BLOCKADE IS THE MOST DIABOLICAL EVER CONCEIVED AGAINST A SISTER
PEOPLE," SAID MANOLO.
They have come without the permission of their government because they
believe that nobody has the right to impose limits on the fraternal
love between sister peoples. The decision could wind them up in jail,
but they assure that their commitment with Cuba is above any risk.
The still fresh memory of the tragedy lived in New Orleans after
Hurricane Katrina brought a uneasy feeling about what they would find
here; nonetheless, the reality of the island has once again surprised
"We were expecting to find the streets covered with mud, dejected
people, but everything is organized. We've seen clean towns, houses
and schools being rebuilt, children receiving classes, the health
centers operating. It's been a great surprise to see that Cuba is
standing," said Rev. Manolo de los Santos Gonzalez, who heads the
brigade of 20 including masons, carpenters, plumbers and electricians
who responded to the call from the interfaith religious organization.
Based on our experience in other parts of the world where there have
been similar disasters we thought the situation would be similar.
After Katrina, Pastors for Peace went to New Orleans. "We were there
gathering bodies," he said.
The reverend said that even today in New Orleans it looks like a
hurricane just hit. "Everything is the same. The houses are ruined.
The people are dispersed throughout the country. The only thing that's
been rebuilt is the tourist zone, which serves to continue enriching
Here, in contrast, you wouldn't think two hurricanes had hit, said
Manolo de los Santos. "Despite the destruction, everybody is working.
They haven't stopped to lament the damage, but instead are
concentrated on what needs to be done to advance. It's something we
want to take back to the United States so that people know that the
recovery after a natural disaster depends above all on the will of the
government and the people."
When a little over three months ago Manolo visited Puerto Esperanza as
part of the Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan he never imagined he
be back so quickly.
"When we saw the news of the hurricanes we knew we had to do
something. We sent letters to progressive organizations and the people
responded immediately. The goal was to obtain 20 persons and more than
50 offered. This demonstrates the affection felt by people in the US
for Cuba," said Manolo de los Santos.
Since their arrival in Puerto Esperanza on October 21 the brigade
members have worked in the reconstruction of the Santos Cruz Special
Education School, a center that was severely damaged by the winds of
Gustav and Ike.
"Today you see things that a week ago weren't there: a roof, the pipes
and the electric systems ready," said Manolo, noting however that the
greatest inspiration is communicated by their presence alongside the
victims, at the risk of facing severe punishment when they return to
"Those of us that are here did not ask the US government for a license
because we believe that no administration can regulate the way one
people shares with another.
"We believe that the blockade is the most immoral and diabolical
instrument conceived against a country and must end. For that reason
Pastors for Peace comes each year without asking for authorization.
"It's true that each time they cause more problems. They threaten us
with fines. They tell us that they are going to take us to court, that
they will imprison us. But nothing will make us renounce our
commitment with Cuba," concluded Manolo de los Santos.