Left Hand Remark
14 days in Cuba
By Rev. Mike Fronk
Many people love to travel internationally, seeing new places, experiencing local culture, trying exotic foods. All this and more can be yours on a good trip. These were some of the outcomes on my trip to Cuba but it wasn’t the reason why David Roger (the co-chair of the Global Ministries Committee with myself) travelled there. The main reason we went was the follow up of an invitation that was extended to us last January when we were there. Our hosts at the Cuban Council of Churches wanted us to see the “Orient” side or eastern end of the island which doesn’t get the same attention that the western (Havana) sector gets. The second goal of the trip was to setup and schedule the work that will be done on next year’s mission trip.
The Orient of Cuba is hotter, drier, and has a longer Spanish history than the western half of the island. The Spanish first settled eastern Cuba. They set up their slave plantations there and today the majority of the population is of African ancestry. The east is also where every revolution on the island began: the Spanish war of independence (we call it the Spanish American War) 1899 and the revolution of 1959 that brought Fidel Castro to power. Aside from this history of independent action, this part of Cuba is much poorer than the western side. The economy is mostly agrarian; we went through mile after mile of sugar cane fields. Up until the last 6 years, people from this side of Cuba had to have an internal passport to go the western side of the island.
Our overall impression of the orient was people in this sector of the island are not likely to see many of the opportunities of a more open Cuba. They lack the tourist potential and many of the economic drivers that are becoming more evident in western Cuba. There is a general belief among the people we have met in Cuba that the dropping of sanctions with the United States will create great economic opportunity. I don’t want it to sound hopeless, but I don’t believe this will be the case in Cuba outside the tourist sector, so there isn’t a lot of potential for rapid change in the Orient.
The more important part of our trip, (at least in our thinking) was setting up next year’s projects. In other countries church partners already present are able to do this work. They regularly host development/work groups from the U.S. That is not the case in Cuba. In many ways we are learning together how they can be more prepared to set up these kind of delegations of other Christians from other parts of the world.
We are planning two projects in Cuba in February, the first is a water project with a congregation in the town of Carnito about the 30 miles east of Havana. This congregation has a feeding ministry to senior citizens of the area in which they feed them lunch and provide enough food to take home for dinner. The church has arranged with the government for an 18 acre piece of land in which they can grow food for their program. Currently they can only grow food in the wet season because they cannot irrigate. The project is to bring water to the fields by accessing a well a half mile from the field and laying pipe to the field. At this point we are waiting to see what the material cost of the project will be and how we can raise the capital to do it. The second project is to continue working with a congregation in Cotorro, a small city east of the Havana. We have been work on improving the church facility in this economically depressed community so they are better equipped to continue their community outreach.
The hard reality of Cuba is this is place of deep hardship. The government of Cuba has existed as a vassal state to Spain, the United States, USSR, Venezuela, and is now with some reticence looking again to the United States. As I witnessed Cuba over the last eight years, the poor are continuing to bare the hardship of change the most. We have found that the protestant church in Cuba is one of the few institutions that has a heart for the poor and doing things that make a difference in their lives. The trip brought home for me that we can make a difference in what may seem small ways but the empowerment of our action is life changing for the people involved.