Friday, July 25, 2008

The Reverse Challenge

monday july 14, 2:25 pm, at the border - mcallen texas/reynosa mexico

associated photos

we left cuba yesterday afternoon, stopped for dinner somewhere in small town mexico about an hour's drive from tampico, and then drove through the night to arrive here early this morning. i snuck across the street to the capri hotel in reynosa, managed to get some frijoles, arroz, avocado y tomates and, as is typical my first day or so in mexico, emptied my bladder a couple of times before departure. some people didn't have breakfast. i was hurried away from mine with a report of a mandatory meeting happening pronto. plans were being finalized for our border crossing attempt. i don't think it's a good idea to send a bunch of hungry tired people to confront american border officials, but who am i to argue.

it was a very empowering experience. we walked through the streets of town, chanting 'cuba si bloqueo no' and, as we neared the pedestrian bridge border crossing, some mexicans were busy painting the curbs red. one fellow said 'no hay bloqueo' and i couldn't help but think, again, about those strange and despicable resort hotels that the cuban government is building. they seem to have access to whatever they need for their touristas ... why is it that the same efforts aren't necessarily afforded all the local people?

we made it safely across the american border, without incident. we had to pay a small fee to leave mexico. it'll be so easy for them to close those borders, when the wall's built -- we're all already trained to accept as normal a departure fee.

the american officials gave us back our computers and some brave caravanistas carried them across the border, circling into mexico and back again three times. other weary travellers are hanging out at the hamburger joint, accumulating a pile of styrofoam, waiting for whatever happens next.

some caravanistas are raving about the revolution, and the ways it's been implemented. i agree that the revolution was genuine - their constitution enshrines the rights and powers of working people - but i have some difficulty defending all aspects of its evolution. capitalism is such a force in this world, and the disparity of wealth and selfish greed that accompanies it, i doubt event the cubans can escape its detrimental effects entirely. there remain alive people who fought in the revolution, people who remember how bad it was before the revolution, people who reap the benefits of the revolution daily but who don't necessarily get up every morning and defend it. it'll be interesting to see what cuba looks like a decade from now - if any of us survive that long.

back here in the good old u s of a, and in mexico, the commodification of half naked women on bill boards assaulted me immediately. no more do i see bill boards espousing che and fidel's words of revolution, ideas about what revolution is and ought to be .... now i'm blasted with the empty messages of capitalism, always wanting every last penny from me, reminding me i'm never good enough, never young enough, never empty and vacuous enough. i'm in a mexico/american restaurant/shop, trying to make room on my computer so i can download the latest photos, so i can take more photos of the pastors and their efforts to walk the stolen computers (taken when we crossed into reynosa a week ago and returned to us today) across the border to our mexican compadres who will deliver them to tampico where they'll be delivered to cuba. i'm standing near the folgers coffee, the pepsi, the starbuck's cold drinks, charging my computer's battery, and have been instructed to pay a dollar for this luxury. i've just finished eating a couple of tortillas (with beans and rice, what else) and explained that my work is with the pastors. one dollar please.

in cuba, yesterday morning, i took a local bus downtown and back to the mlk centre where we were staying. we had a few hours in the morning and i wanted to see the museum of the revolution. i asked around, who wants to join me, and dan said he wanted to check out the museum of art so off we went to the bus stop. we'd spent the last week, prior to that, being escorted here and there, this was a new adventure off on our own. i asked the bus driver 'quanto questa' and didn't get a response. i pulled out a handful of change, my tourista pesos (there are two currencies in cuba, one for the locals and one for the tourists, ensuring that foreigners pay more since, generally, we earn more), and a woman entering the bus said no no and gave me one of her pesos to pay for the both of us. she wouldn't accept the 'convertible pesos,' the tourists currency, that i tried to give her. i had half an hour in the museum and then i found my way back, all alone. it was a proud moment. i wish i could thank the woman who paid the fare.

i'm not convinced that cuba's socialism is the ideal solution, but it sure generates a different attitude than this goofy capitalism we endure here. we were lost this morning, as the sun rose, in reynosa, and found ourselves along the maquilladora zone watching bus loads of people being driven to large warehouses that were being guarded by sentries. i wondered what it's like to get up each day to slave away for a corporate master, as compared to getting up each day to work for your revolution.


here's a letter from libby davies, mp in vancouver:

Office of Foreign Assets Control US Department of the Treasury
Treasury Annex

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Washington, DC 20220

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am writing on behalf of my constituent, Jim Wilson, who is a Canadian citizen participating in the Pastors for Peace US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan. He explained to me that federal agents seized 32 computers from the caravan.

I respectfully request that the confiscated computers be released so that they could be used for educational purposes in Cuba. I understand that in the past similar caravans have successfully transported goods without incident.

Humanitarian and educational aid to our friends in Cuba is an endeavour I wholeheartedly support, and I urge your compassion and discretion in granting the release of the computers as soon as possible.

Yours Sincerely,

(original signed by)

Libby Davies, MP (Vancouver East)