U.S.-Cuba Sister City projects 'come out'
Jay Higginbotham
November/December 1999

The following is a speech delivered at the US-Cuba Sister Cities Association Coming Out Conference in Mobile, Alabama on October 9, 1999.

For four decades now, the Cuban and American people have been constricted in their relations by a cruel and inhumane embargo. The long range effect of this embargo is a tragic situation in which both Cubans and Americans are losers.

Perhaps the biggest loser is democracy itself, for it has been shown again and again in recent years that the great majority of the people in the United States and throughout the world--even most Cuban-Americans in Florida-=are opposed to the embargo.

Yet it is maintained--against the wishes of the majority everywhere on earth.

In the midst of this ongoing tragedy, the ideals of an American program--the concept of sister cities--are now reappearing, which is why we have traveled nationwide, to gather here this evening.

The essence of the sister city idea is this: By creative interactment in concrete and constructive ways, mutual problems and challenges can better be met; individuals can not only solve basic problems facing ALL societies, but can improve their relationships with one another as members of the world community.

If enough Cuban and American cities can share ourselves and our problems with one another, we can eventually transform our governments from combatants to cooperants, which will inevitably lead to normal relations--even to true friendship--for no amount of hatred and ill will can withstand the power of people actively sharing with one another and together meeting common challenges.

There is no better way to improve one's community and one's nation than by sharing ideas with a culture different than one's own, by testing and using different approaches to fundamental problems. Thus Cubans and Americans sharing our problems and our solutions, far from being merely a moral obligation, is a priceless opportunity to learn from one another and together advance the human spirit. And what better time to take advantage of this opportunity than now?

Today a great gulf divides the Cuban and American governments. Jagged peaks and barrier reefs bar our closer relations. Rather than crashing through or around the barriers, however, which we have long been attempting through politics and force, together through US-Cuba Sister Cities Association, we embark on another, more constructive way.

We will flood that abyss with so much goodwill, so many positive ideas and concrete actions that our joint efforts will lift us above the peaks and snags of petty politics and carry us across the waters into each other's open arms. We must continue this new-found positive relationship even though our government, even though Sister Cities International, cannot at this time approve the relationship.

Like Romeo and Juliet, we shall continue our unblessed affair, despite the efforts of certain parental authority figures, to keep us apart. But unlike the star-crossed lovers of medieval times, however, our sister cities must strive to bring about reconciliation between our families before more tragedy occurs, rather than afterwards. This is the true meaning of the sister city ideal--helping each other, sharing ideas, problems and solutions.

This new relationship will have far-flung consequences for both Cuba and the United States, as we seek to learn from each other, especially in the fields of education, crime prevention, narcotics interdiction, environmental protections and medical technology. What miracles could be wrought if the richest country on earth began supplying Cuban doctors--some of the most talented and well-trained in any country--enough medicines and equipment and combined medical research? The results would astonish the world! New knowledge from combined resources would not only save the lives of Cubans, but of Americans as well, just as Cuba has offered its new Meningitis vaccine to that purpose.

But the Cuban-American relationship, as important as it is for both our countries today, has even broader implications.

As the oldest relic of the Cold War, it stands starkly on the world stage as a seemingly impossible situation to reconcile. The Cuban-American conflict is therefore far more crucial than it might appear. For it symbolizes the larger clash of societies of different value systems, different creeds of government. If this conflict cannot be resolved between close neighbors, using mutual respect, rational discussion, sharing of mutual goals and creative conflict resolution, how can humankind expect to resolve more complex disputes between more distant and dangerous situations of the future? Disputes which if not resolved, could put an end to civilization?

Let us therefore make the Cuban-American conflict and its resolution a model for all world leaders to use in any coming crisis of the new millennium.

If by the spirit of friendship, if by using rational, respectful and creative methods of conflict resolution, if by extending our hands, our minds and our hearts, we can succeed in such a seemingly impossible challenge as ending the longest, harshest embargo ever to be placed against any nation; the US blockade against Cuba, we will have achieved not merely a hemispheric victory, but a global triumph for all humankind.

Jay Higginbotham is president of "Society Mobile-la Habana." For further information contact:
US-Cuba Sister Cities Association
320 Lowenhill St
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
412-563-1519 or 412-563-1945 (fax)

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