Guest Columnist Eli Scholtz: ‘An embargo on the minds of the American people’

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Published: 7/7/2021 4:27:00 PM

On June 23 for the 29th consecutive year, the vast majority of countries of the United Nations General Assembly voted for a resolution demanding an end to the half-century-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. Most people think that this is only an economic embargo on Cuba. But it is also an embargo on the minds of the American people, an embargo on our imagination at a time when the fate of humanity requires all of our imaginative capacities.

What am I talking about?

With the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba most Americans believe that they can’t travel to Cuba. But my wife and I have traveled there a number of times.

Two of the most memorable trips were with Pastors for Peace. Each year Pastors for Peace organizes a group of Americans to challenge the blockade by traveling to Cuba without a government license.

Pastors for Peace considers it their religious duty to “Love Thy Neighbor.” And since Cuba is one of our neighbors, any attempt to prevent them from traveling to Cuba to bring aid, would be interfering with Pastors for Peace free exercise of religion. As for being licensed, Pastors for Peace says, “We don’t need a government license. Love is our license.”

Some might call this “civil disobedience,” but Pastors for Peace founder, Rev. Lucius Walker, called it “civil obedience to an authority higher than the U.S. government.” In seeing Cuba with our own eyes, we began to become aware of the blockade on the minds of the people of the United States.

In Havana we have repeatedly visited an institution, which used to be a Cuban naval base, but which has been converted into ELAM, the Latin American School of Medicine. At ELAM there are 10,000 foreign students from “Third World” countries studying free of charge as guests of the Cuban government and people, studying to be doctors, so that they can go back and build health care systems in their own countries. There are even some American students studying for free with the understanding that they will return to the U.S. to practice medicine in underserved communities.

And ELAM is not an isolated example. On one of our trips we visited an educational institution that had thousands of “Third World” students studying sport and physical rehabilitation in order to go back to their countries and build programs in these fields. It is worth remembering the words of Nelson Mandela: “What other country can show as much selflessness as Cuba has in its relations with the African continent? How many countries in the world have benefited from the assistance of Cuban health workers and educators? What country has ever asked for Cuban assistance and been denied?”

Now comes the imagination.

Imagine that we in the U.S. did something like what Cuba is doing. We have 30 times the population of Cuba and much more than 30 times Cuba’s economic resources. Imagine instead of wasting money on a new generation of nuclear weapons, we took money we are spending on war and converted 30 of our military bases into medical schools and welcomed 300,000 students from the “Third World” to study medicine free of charge in order to go back to their countries and set up health systems.

How would that affect the feelings of people all over the world toward the United States? What would that do for our “national security?” Can you imagine? Can you imagine yourself joining with others to make it happen?

Dr. Eli Schotz is a retired physician living in Cummington and is a member of the Peace Task Force of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution and Mass Peace Action. He can be reached at


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