Ending the Embargo on Affordable Health

IN OAKLAND, CALIF., schools and other nontraditional sites host health clinics that provide both primary care and preventive health services for area residents, many of whom are uninsured.

In south Los Angeles, mental health professionals have created programs based on nutrition and group exercise, along with peer-to-peer education about the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Community groups, faith-based organizations, schools, and health providers are coming together in Albuquerque, N.M., to enroll hundreds of children in Medicaid and start neighborhood walking groups—part of an effort to break down walls between health-care providers and their patients

The U.S. health-care system is known for treating advanced-stage illnesses with expensive therapies that are often not accessible to those without health insurance. So if these low-cost, preventative programs in Oakland, LA, and Albuquerque don’t sound like the typical U.S. approach to health, you’re right: These and other community-based efforts trace their inspiration to the remarkably successful health system built by the nation of Cuba.

That inspiration, and the U.S. initiatives that have followed, have been nurtured by the California-based nonprofit Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, known as MEDICC. Through guided trips to directly observe Cuba’s health system, MEDICC aims to help those working in underserved communities in the U.S. learn about the Cuban model, where quite limited health-care expenditures in a decidedly low-income population manage to provide universal care and health outcomes that rival those in the U.S.

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July 2015
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Cuba, North Korea, and Freedom

THOUGH SOME HAVE accepted “axis of evil” characterizations of Cuba and North Korea, my experiences of the two countries—nine visits to Cuba and one week in North Korea—have led me to far different conclusions: There are very few similarities between the two nations, and neither is inherently “evil.”

Music infuses the air in Cuba as in no other of the 60 countries to which I’ve traveled. The streets are alive. Children play baseball and soccer in the streets. Cafes, parks, and other public places are crowded and noisy. Nearly everyone I’ve met has treated me like a long-lost friend, even more so when they learn I’m American. There is a natural affinity between Cubans and Americans. More than 100 flights a week ferry people between Havana and Miami.

In North Korea, the streets are eerily quiet. There is virtually no visible human interaction. North Koreans are forbidden to make eye contact with Westerners. There appear to be no public gathering places except the massive government plazas where military parades and government rallies are staged. I was never allowed to go anywhere without a “minder.” I traveled with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) official who was born in North Korea and returns there frequently. His counsel: “Assume that everywhere you go you are followed and that every conversation you have, no matter where, is bugged.” His relatives received permission to travel from their home village to Pyongyang to visit him. In our hotel room, he turned the television volume up to full blast before they began talking quietly. On one early morning walk near our hotel (the only time I was unescorted), I took a few photographs. By the time I returned to the hotel, government representatives were waiting in the lobby, demanding to see all my photos and instructing me on which ones to delete.

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After Pope’s Trip, Catholic Bishops Seek End to Cuba Embargo

L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI meets with former Cuban President Fidel Castro llast month. L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Following Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Cuba, U.S. Catholic bishops are pushing the State Department to lift the 50-year Cuban embargo in order to improve religious liberty and human rights for the Cuban people. 

In a Tuesday (April 17) letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, pressed the Obama administration to pursue “purposeful engagement rather than ineffective isolation” with Havana.

The Cuban Journal

Cuba, Dec. 8, 2008. Image via Wylio: http://bit.ly/tQNsK3

Cuba, Dec. 8, 2008. Image via Wylio: http://bit.ly/tQNsK3

Earlier this month, Sojourners board member and former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, journeyed to Cuba with a delegation of religious leaders from the National Council of Churches.

Their visit culminated in a joint declaration celebrating signs of unity between the U.S. and Cuban churches. Sixteen representatives of U.S. National Council of Churches member communions were in Cuba November 28 through December 2 meeting with Cuban church and political leaders, including President Raúl Castro.

The delegation, which Cuban church leaders said was the highest ranking U.S. church group to visit the island in their memory, was led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. The joint statement by the churches declared that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba would be in the best interest of both nations, and the leaders called for the resolution of three humanitarian issues “which cause unjustifiable human misunderstanding and suffering.” Foremost among the issues is the 53-year-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba that dates back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy.

Read a series of dispatches from Granberg-Michaelson inside God's Politics.