June 18 2004

Local Artist Plans to Shed Light on Misconceptions of Cuba

By Raymond R. Beltrán

With Miami, Florida’s Cuban exiles anxiously waiting to see the end to what they perceive as Cuban tyranny upon the death of President Fidel Castro, shrouds of North American fables attempt to consummate the U.S.’s, somewhat, inevitable takeover of a revolutionary island that hasn’t seen a capitalist system in 45 years.

Rumors being perceived as absolute, inarguable truth about Cuba here in the United States has been that homosexuality comes with extreme persecution, i.e. prison sentences, communism has failed a starving society, freedom of literature doesn’t exist and censorship is a way of life for Cuba’s population that opposes Castro.

In an attempt to sift through what’s fact from fiction, a local artist and youth educator, Victor Ochoa, is planning to take a voyage to Cuba early next month with a list of inquiries from San Diego’s urban youth

Originally going as a guest of Cuba’s Minister of Culture Abel Prieto to paint a mural dedicated to revolutionary guerilla trainer Arcazio “El Indio Vanegas” Arollo, Ochoa will be taking a video cassette of exerts from San Diego Chicano youth inquiring about the lifestyle of a people living on a castigated island under what is being predicted to be a dying communist flag.

“A lot of times the youth in the United States have perceptions about what’s going on in Cuba [because they believe] all the things that gusanos say,” says Ochoa. “The idea of this is to have some kind of video link between our students and the students over there.”

Ochoa is currently sending out a call for submissions, via email, to the Chicano community, requesting that they record themselves asking questions directly to Cuban people about topics ranging from fashion style to music preference to political stances and lifestyles.

With the help of the Minister of Culture and a representative from the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP), Ana Maria Pellon, Ochoa will be exhibiting the video to Cuban students on La Isla de la Juventud, where they will also be recorded while responding questions from the video.

Daryl Ashcroft, a youth counselor at Pazazz, a youth tutoring center in Oak Park, has plans to accompany Victor Ochoa to Cuba, but is currently just helping to gather footage from local youth.

“The misconceptions the youth have [about Cuba] are that it’s a dirty place, the people don’t believe in freedom, there’s slavery, no medicine, they don’t have health care, there’s no police and basically, it’s just total anarchy,” says Ashcroft. “But the youth that fall into those misconceptions are usually the ones that have the ‘Christopher Columbus discovered America’ perception of history.”

He attributes much of their conceptions of Cuba to American media and teachers who’ve learned more about Cuba through books rather than travel experience.

Most of the youth that Ashcroft has encountered while working on the project range from ages 13 to 20 years of age and are students who have taken part in a trip to South Africa to work with people living with AIDS. He says that his mission in the Cuba video project is to build a sense of global responsibility for future leaders, and to ultimately create means of unfiltered dialogue between conflicting nations.

Ochoa says he’s received some antagonizing emails from older community members inquiring about a dictatorship full of torture chambers and a prison system that violates the human rights of the Castro opposition in Cuba.

“There just older Chicanos that want to [muse] over Fidel’s dictatorship from a gusano perspective, but I’m not going to censor that kind of stuff either,” said Ochoa. “I’m in support of the [Cuban] people and what they want to do. Saying I’m in support of Fidel is like saying that I’m behind one man, it’s more than that.”

While he is planning his expedition, U.S. and Cuban leaders have been throwing verbal daggers back and forth with the comradeship Castro has found in Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, and the recent ripple with Mexican President Vicente Fox when Fox condemned Cuba of violating human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently made statements, according to World Data Service reporter Ariel Florit, about illegal human trafficking of women and children in Cuba, encompassing the island with a “black list [of countries like] Bangladesh, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, Korea of the North, Mountain range Lioness, Myanmar, Sudan and Venezuela,” a report that Florit asserts has no merit.

Despite the accusations, President Fidel Castro made a speech last month condemning George W. Bush for his talk of freedom while waging “predatory wars,” like the occupation of Iraq, and in an adverse proclamation, transcribed by Cuban journalist Francisco Forteza, Castro also stated, “This town [Havana] can be exterminated … swept off the face of the Earth, but not subjugated nor put under the humiliating condition of neocolonialism of the United States again.”

Many people believe the U.S.’s takeover of Cuba upon the death of Castro is inevitable, ultimately creating the pre-revolutionary Las Vegas it was intended to be in the early-20th Century.

“The era that we live in, we just haven’t grown to the level of making peaceful transitions,” says Ashcroft, who believes that Cuba will be engulfed into the U.S. with the passing of Castro. “But I try not to get caught up in criticizing communism or capitalism, because once you make a choice, lines are drawn. The second you choose, you’ve initiated a war, and right now, I’m just trying to get our youth to get a compassion for human lives.”

Economic sanctions imposed on Cuba by the U.S. began in 1963 with President John F. Kennedy in order to isolate and break the socialist system created after the island’s armed revolution of 1959, led by Castro. Since then, sanctions have been more extreme with the U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, this February, supporting a more stringent travel ban, which has resulted in intense customs inspections and a ban on ten foreign travel agencies from doing business in the States due to supposed links with Cuba, according to the Associated Press.

The Transportation and Treasury departments have abolished a “people-to-people” travel license that allow Americans to travel to Cuba for educational purposes, although, Ochoa and Ashcroft, who are planning to fly out of Tijuana, have said they haven’t run into any problems.

“Any time you try to create change, you going to have obstacles to overcome,” says Ashcroft. “Unless you’re an actor or an athlete, you’re not allowed to go to Cuba. If this country stands on the merit of freedom, we should act on it. The president shouldn’t be the only person allowed to travel the world.”

For inquiries, you can contact Victor Ochoa at vochoa@att.net or 619-818-0173. He will be leaving for Cuba on July 13, next month.

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