Seeing the people, not Cold War politics
By TONYAA WEATHERSBEE, Florida Times-Union
[Member of the Trotter Group of Black
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Alberto Jones is the last person one would expect to have any love for Cuba. Especially when hatred forced him out of it.
Jones, whose Jamaican grandparents immigrated to Cuba, left that country on the Mariel boatlift in 1980. He decided to leave, he said, after being convicted of disloyalty in a sham trial based on charges cooked up by co-workers who resented his attempts to clean up corruption in a veterinary diagnostic lab that he ran in Oriente province.
"We had alcohol for testing purposes, and people would walk away with it for their parties," Jones, who lives in Palm Coast, told me.
"They'd make dates with girls there and everything ... It got to the point that I had to forbid some of the bosses from coming in there ...
Things got really bad, Jones said, after his work earned the admiration of a top Cuban leader. His co-workers, he said, concocted lies about him, such as saying that he offended the memory of Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary icon, by describing him as a mercenary.
He wound up serving four years in prison behind those accusations. When it was clear that he wasn't going to get the opportunity to clear his name, Jones decided to leave.
"I wasn't going to be able to live like that, with always having to look behind my back all the time," he said.
Yet that experience didn't push Jones, who is now 68, to purge Cuba from his memory. Too many of his former countrymen, he said, need his help, not his bitterness.
He tries to give them that - although he admits that lately that hasn't been easy.
In its efforts to topple the regime of Fidel Castro, the Bush administration has imposed a series of new restrictions on who gets to visit and aid Cuba. Restrictions on where goods can be delivered to Cuba from the United States has made it tough to distribute them in the time in which container ships have to unload them, he said.
"It's become literally impossible now [to deliver goods to Cuba]," said Jones, who founded the Caribbean American Children's Foundation to get help to children in his native land. "That's why this garage is so packed [with medicines and other goods]...
"It's hollow to fill up these containers, and not be able to get these things there."
But Jones is waiting it out. He hopes it won't be long.
Yet even if it is, he still doesn't plan to give up on Cuba. That's because for him, blood is thicker than Cold War politics.
His two children - children he is now allowed to visit only once every three years - are still in Cuba. Most of the Cubans who live on the island are, like him, Afro-Cubans. Most of them are unlikely to see their peso salaries supplemented by remittances from relatives in the United States, because most of the Cubans who flee the island tend to be white.
"What happened to me was wrong, but that has nothing to do with everyone else." Jones said.
It's interesting how, from his perch in Palm Coast, Jones has managed a task that seems impossible for many Americans: He can view people through the prism of their humanity and not the politics of their country.
Now if only the U.S. government could do the same.
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