BY TATIANA PINA | Providence Journal Staff Writer
Rhode Island residents donate medical supplies and other items for residents of Cuba.
Let Cuba live. Lift the blockade.
That’s what the sign said on the school bus that rolled into Providence yesterday afternoon to pick up goods that Rhode Island residents donated for people in Cuba.
The bus was filled with medical supplies, bikes, sewing machines and other items. It is one of about 100 vehicles that are traveling through the United States collecting items that will be shipped to Cuba as part of the 15th Pastors for Peace/Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization Caravan for Peace.
The bus stopped at the Cuban Revolution Restaurant on Washington Street, owned by Mary and Ed Morabito, who plans to run as an independent for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by James Langevin. At the restaurant, organizers, participants and supporters ate Cuban sandwiches, rice and bean rollups and yuca while they talked about the trip and the reasons they were going to Cuba.
The narrow restaurant was lined with red and black posters of Robert Kennedy and Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevarra. Now and then, the Beatles’ song “Revolution” played.
At a time when the Bush administration has clamped down on U.S. travel to Cuba, the group was defiant and determined to deliver the donations to people they said had been squeezed economically for decades by the United States’ embargo on the Communist island nation.
Jeanne DiPretoro, who lives in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence, will drive a donated van that will take donations from Rhode Island to Tampico, Mexico. From there, the goods will be shipped to Cuba.
DiPretoro’s eyes welled with tears as she talked about the trip and the donations.
The owner of a mattress factory in Fall River gave an industrial-strength sewing machine for making mattresses and remnants, she said.
Then there was the donor in Chepachet, DiPretoro said. “Here is a woman on Social Security who took out the little money she had because she wanted to give us a sewing machine to bring,” she said. A surgeon gave her $100,000 worth of surgical tools, she said.
“I knew if the American people knew what was going on, they would not abide it,” she said. “Viva Cuba, but thank you Rhode Island.”
This year’s caravan has focused on collecting items for the Abel Santamaria School for the Blind and the Bayamo Mattress Factory, which makes beds for Cubans with disabilities.
Mary and Ed Morabito’s daughter, Angela, 15, a student at East Greenwich High School, has photographs of her Cuban grandmother bringing humanitarian aid to residents of her home country.
In a few weeks, Angela Morabito will be on Cuban soil, delivering baby formula and other medical supplies.
Morabito said she wants to talk with people there about what they think about people in the United States, given the restrictions the United States has put on Cuba.
Ellen Bernstein, the associate director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, said that the Bush administration’s policy toward Cuba has hardened drastically and that bringing donations and traveling there might prove difficult. Volunteers will not let the government dictate what they should do, she said.
“It’s a gesture of defiance. Rather than using economic strangulation, we think a dialogue is better. As we learn more about the people, we learn more about their indomitable spirit,” she said.
Bernstein described Bush’s policy toward Cuba as a “regime change.”
She said that the administration is about to start implementing the recommendations of a report called the Presidential Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which entails spending $36 million to try to organize an opposition movement inside Cuba with special attention to dissident groups, women, youth, the religious sector and Afro- Cubans.
The recommendations include new restrictions on Cuban-American travel that would allow travel to Cuba once every three years, and only to visit immediate relatives.
Lloyd Monroe, a Republican candidate for state Senate District 8 in East Providence, stopped by the Cuban Revolution to lend support. Monroe said he is in favor of free trade and disagrees with the embargo.
“I don’t think it’s had the intended effect, which was to end Castro’s rule. I think opening Cuba to free enterprise may help Cubans move away from their present system,” he said.
Bernstein said that the bus will visit 13 cities in 13 days, joining the other vehicles in McAllen, Texas, on the Fourth of July and traveling to Tampico, Mexico. Volunteers will fly to Cuba and will visit schools, hospitals and rural provinces.