The Cuban problem: How do you help people stuck with a bad government?

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Cuba conflicts people.

President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba divides the Cuban immigrant community of Florida and the hearts of many individuals.

I cannot think of a time that I did not know of Cuba, a crisis like the Cuban Missile Crisis sears your memory regardless of age.

Castro’s revolution and the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs had U.S. Cuba relations on the minds of people even in the Pennsylvania factory town where I grew up. A 1961 Christmas Parade featured a float with Soviet Premier Krushchev and Fidel Castro in a cage. People laughed and cheered.

At the time, Youngstown and Pittsburgh together produced more steel than any region in the world, alone they were both in the top 4. The steel mills of the Mahoning Valley were 12 miles upriver from my back yard and those of the Beaver Valley 15 miles downriver.

My  2-nd grade classmates  and I knew if missiles started flying the steel mills would be targeted and the whole world would collapse in a nuclear explosion upon our very heads, even if we did do duck and cover.  I imagine the explosion would be like a giant sinkhole opening up and the all of existence being sucked into a black hole.

Funny how childhood innocence processes foreign policy.

While my friends and I fretted about, among other things, no sugar for our morning cereal, Marie was dealing with a different set of problems. We’re the same age.  She’s Cuban. Soldiers invaded her home when she was five years old. Her father was a reporter who had angered the Castro government and now a couple years later the family was plotting to flee to America.

Chilling, not only the family story but also the idea of a society without free speech. Outlaw free speech and you make freedom of thought illegal. What kind of person does that? What do you do with a government that does that?

So when Marie argues shunning a government that arrests people who help others to organize and share ideas, like what happened to Alan Gross, then I think I understand.

I met Marie four years ago when I wrote about a guy named Nathan Turner. Nate teaches government and history to inner city high school students. During  summer break he commits acts of civil disobedience.  He lives his beliefs. Bottom line is he just wants to help people.  He doesn’t concern himself about international politics, national policy or the FBI and the CIA. He just wants to help.

And what he does and why he says he does it forced Marie and myself to think very hard about how to handle the Cuban government.

When Nathan rolled through Tallahassee on a Pastors for Peace mission I produced a radio story about his trip. Soldiers and governments don’t intimidate Nathan when he has a school bus filled with crayons and medicine for children and old people.

You can read the story, or  listen to it here.