By Robert Plain | Ashland Daily Tidings
Jane Palmieri, a nursing student at Southern Oregon University, says she is definitely going back to Cuba. In fact, since her trip there with five other Ashlanders and the Pastors for Peace humanitarian mission last month, she has decided to attend medical school in the socialist nation located just south of Florida.
Palmieri, Suzie Aufderheide, her two sons Colin and Ian Riversong, MaryAnn Jones and her son Brad — all from Ashland — joined the Pastors for Peace caravanista as they delivered humanitarian aide and good energy directly to the Cuban people.
“Being in Cuba definitely changed my life,” said Palmieri. “Getting out of my American reality really made me think about some things.”
She said she saw a completely different lifestyle than the one she knows here in the U.S., saying one is just as likely to see oxen plowing a field as a tractor or an entire family on one bicycle rather than one person in a car.
“It’s not really a consumer society because the resources are so limited,” she said, adding that she realized “that capitalism and consumerism is not the only way for a country to succeed.”
Colin Riversong, 18, also went to Cuba for the first time. He said the Cuban people were “incredibly receptive” to the Pastors for Peace mission.
“They knew exactly who we were,” he said.
Both Palmieri and Riversong said one unique thing about Cuba was that each neighborhood had both a doctor and a nurse.
“The idea isn’t about making money but about taking care of each other,” Riversong. “There is a lot of amazing stuff happening down there.”
Aufderheide said one of the most amazing parts of the trip was getting a chance to hear Fidel Castro, Cuba’s president, speak.
“He was totally wonderful,” she said, noting that he spoke for more than four hours. She said he talked about various ways to stimulate the Cuban economy. One idea was to go into the bon bon business, because of Cuba’s access to cocoa.
Aufderheide said there are many similarities between local governments here in the United States and those in Cuba.
“At the local level they are pretty even,” she said. “They both work for free and try to do what is best for their local communities.”
She said she was impressed by Cubans’ ability to treat Americans with respect after all that U.S. policy has done to their country over the years.
“For them to treat us so well after what we our country did to theirs was a real lesson for me,” she said.
This was the 16th consecutive year the Pastors for Peace has brought humanitarian aide to Cuba. This year, the Department of Commerce would not let the caravanista bring computer equipment, though. In fact there are 43 boxes of computer equipment still being held at the Texas-Mexico border that the group was trying to bring to Cuba.
“It seems even the White House is trying to stop humanitarian aide from reaching Cuba,” Palmieri said. “Everyone at the border said they would love to give us the computers back but it’s the higher-ups in government.”
When Palmieri returned from Cuba she got a letter from the federal Office of Foreign Assets Control asking her to detail everything she did while in Cuba.
“They didn’t like that I went to Cuba very much,” she said, noting that about half of the participants got a similar letter. She said others who have gone to Cuba in the past said this is a new tactic by the government.
“They want to know pretty much every detail of the trip,” she said. “There are four pages of questions.”
Aufderheide said the Pastors of Peace expects the letters and advises its members not to purchase anything while there.
“There really isn’t a lot we can tell them,” she said. “I thought it was kind of comical.”