Last week, Cuban authorities detained nine humanitarians who were part of the First United Church of Portland. The reasons were unexplained. The members were held at the airport and slept on the floor until they were related released. Cuban officials stated that there was a discrepancy between the tourist visa and the special religious activities license.
Statement From Carol and Mark Slegers of the First Unitarian Church in Portland:
This statement was prepared by Carol and Mark Slegers, Harriet Denison and Jacquie Jones, members of Cuba AyUUda, a project of the First Unitarian Church, Portland, Oregon.–We appreciate your concern about the treatment of our fourteen travelers in the Havana airport last Saturday. We want to assure you that everyone is fine and in good spirits. For all of us it was a frightening experience. For those nine detained in the Havana airport who were forced to sleep on a cold marble floor it was extremely uncomfortable but the fear of not knowing what would happen to them was terrifying.
This experience has deepened our compassion for other people who are powerless in the face of unresponsive and unyielding authority.
We speculate that the distinct change in Cuban immigration policy came about because of the recent incident of a US government contractor who distributed cell phones and computers to members of Cuban dissident groups. We are concerned about his welfare and hope for his immediate release. We need you to know that this was the fourteenth legally licensed trip by our project, Cuba AyUUda, in seven years. During these trips, over 200 people have gone as citizen diplomats representing peace-seeking US Americans. Our primary goal has always been to build understanding between the people of our two countries. In the pursuit of that goal we have worked with a number of non-governmental organizations serving the needs of women, children, the elderly, patients with HIV+AIDS, and diabetic children. Our service work includes painting, construction, sewing, organic gardening, art and music making. We celebrate with Cuban friends the milestones of our lives and discover together the sacred in the ordinary.
These projects have served to enrich our lives and the lives of Cubans. The mutual respect and lasting friendships that have developed over the years have transformed all of us. Our hope is that this incident will trigger an examination of our government´s policies toward Cuba today.
What we have is two governments rigidified by old ideas.
What we need is authentic diplomacy to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States of America into this new decade.
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