Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

End Failed Trade Ban with Cuba

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

End Failed Trade Ban with Cuba

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

ST. AUGUSTINE - Recently, at the home of former St. Augustine Mayor Len Weeks and his wife, Kristy, I witnessed an evening of camaraderie and humanitarianism.

Then, Cold War politics stuck its tongue out at them.

Weeks and his wife, as well Ron Dixon, Soledad Pagliuca and other members of the St. Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association, sipped wine and shifted excitedly on sofas and chairs as the minutes ticked on CNN Heroes.

They wanted to see if Kristy Weeks' nominee, Irania Martinez Garcia of Guantanamo, Cuba, would walk away with its "Defending the Planet" award.

Garcia led residents of a Guantanamo neighborhood to recycle a rubbish dump into compost materials. Now those organic materials are used to nurture woodlands and gardens. Trees now line a landscape once defined by smoke from burning trash. The program, which is supported by the United Nations Development Fund, has created jobs, as well.

"When I approached this solid waste dump, I couldn't even smell it," said Alberto Jones, who is a native of Guantanamo and vice president of the friendship association. "It was like a botanical garden ... the air quality has improved in that area tremendously."

"When I met this lady [Garcia], I said to Soledad: 'She ought to be a CNN hero,' " Weeks told me.

So Weeks nominated Garcia. And she won. The living room erupted into cheers.

Then came the rude interruption.

Actress Rosario Dawson announced that because of travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba, Garcia couldn't come to New York to pick up her $10,000 prize. Jones had to accept it on her behalf.

Such craziness ought to make more Americans want to step up - and push for an end to the failed embargo and travel ban.

Not only do we miss on connecting with Cuban culture and hearing from heroes like Garcia, but Cubans here are missing out on reconnecting with their families.

For Cuban Americans - most of whom still have relatives on the island - the past four years have been brutal. In a sop to the hard-line exile community, in 2004 the Bush administration curtailed their visits to that country. …

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