More to Cuba than communism, minister says
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For many Americans, Cuba simply conjures up vestiges of Cold War anxiety, images of an ailing Fidel Castro, and the youthful portrait of Che Guevara.
But a Cuban minister who traveled to Charleston on Tuesday hopes to change that mindset.
Communism, Samuel Aguilera said, should not be the face of Cuba.
"There are many Cubans with different feelings and different lifestyles that should be heard and loved," he said. "They are the real face of Cuba."
Aguilera comes from the vibrant neighborhood of San Miguel in Havana. The area, a haven for professional dancers and singers, has fostered afro-Cuban art and culture for decades.
Last week, he traveled to the United States to attend a conference that gathered Baptist congregations from around the world at Gonzaga University.
For Aguilera, the conference offered an opportunity "to create a culture of peace not only between Cuba and the United States but between human beings."
On Tuesday, he visited the Charleston area to see a sister church and discuss his thoughts about Cuba.
Cubans have an innate resilience that has helped them weather the challenges they have faced for decades under communist rule, Aguilera said.
According to Aguilera, those challenges are primarily economic.
Although Cuba boasts a higher literacy rate and life expectancy than the United States, the annual income for an average Cuban family remains abysmally low.
Economic struggles have driven thousands of families away from Cuba.
Even Aguilera has had family flee the country. Twenty years ago, he watched several family members immigrate to Spain and then America to escape the economic turmoil that plagued Cuba at the time.
"There was a time in the '90s when a lot of Cubans left for the United States," Aguilera said. "It divided a lot of families. It caused a lot of suffering for many Cubans."
Today, Aguilera hopes that Cuba has begun to head down a better path.
"Cuba has gone through a lot of processes, changes," he said. "Times can change for the nation."
Capitalism has steadily made inroads through the island nation since Raul Castro assumed power as president two years ago and initiated several radical reforms that have partially rolled back decades of communist policy.
Under those reforms, Cubans can now run private businesses. They can also own cars and some private property.
President Obama has also relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba and offered humanitarian aid to the island nation. New visa requirements have opened the door for more Cubans -- including Aguilera -- to travel to the United States.
Aguilera wants to continue that relationship. He hopes that America and Cuba can one day forge a strong friendship that rises above petty international struggles.
"There are many Cubans who love America, and many people in the United States that love Cuba," Aguilera said. "I hope that one day there will be a real bridge of friendship, without fear of immigration and without fear of economic difficulties."
Reach Laura Reston at email@example.com or 304-348-5112.