Pastors for Peace give insight into the Cuba they know

Thursday, June 26, 2008 | 1:17 p.m. CDT; updated 1:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The evening began with a potluck dinner and a rousing conversation about politics. Hot-button issues and visible contention among the crowd came to a halt, however, with the musical renditions of Eco Gitano and Los Destarrados.

As the music grew louder, feet began to tap, heads began to bounce, and hands began to wave. The rhythmic beats of the bongos set the stage for an impassioned presentation on Cuban politics.

The juxtaposition of lively island music with serious debate fit the tone of Wednesday night’s Pastors for Peace program.

Sponsored by the Columbia Coalition for Peace, members of Pastors for Peace stopped in Columbia, on the way to Cuba, to collect donations and tell people about the group’s 19th caravan to the island nation. The premise of the presentation was to depict a Cuba with which Americans, for the most part, are not familiar.

“We want people to know the truth about Cuba,” said Carol Cross, a member of Pastors for Peace who will make her 23rd trip to Cuba this year.

“We want people to understand that Cuba is not a threat,” Cross said.

Cross’s fervent promotion of Cuba did not fully resonate with all attendees of the program.

Wendy Hofman, a Columbia resident of 14 years, was surprised that the group did not mention the fact that Cuba is a dictatorship, which she believes is strengtened by the U.S. embargo on Cuba. However, Hofman said she fully supports all the work the group is doing to lift the counter-productive embargo.

Pastors for Peace is collecting and transporting aid primarily to Cuban elders, especially medical supplies and equipment.

Although Cross said the caravan is at capacity for donations, people can still donate money to help alleviate the costs of shipping the supplies.

Donations will also be contributed to Cuban churches and community organizations to subsidize the rising cost of fuel. Pastors for Peace is donating several diesel buses to those organizations and churches on the island.

Pastors for Peace, a branch of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, was founded in 1988, “to pioneer the delivery of humanitarian aid to Latin America and the Caribbean,” according to the organization’s Web site.

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