This article is by Rev. Francisco Rodes, Pastor Emeritus of the First Baptist Church of Matanzas, and founder and director of the Kairos Center in Matanzas, Cuba. He outlines the importance of the life of Martin Luther King to Cuba, and gives an historical overview of the relationships between the Christian Church in Cuba and the Cuban government and people.

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Martin Luther King Jr. In CubaRev. Francisco Rodés
On April 4, 1968, I was spending several weeks working as a volunteer during the sugar cane harvest when I first heard the shocking news of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Later I will explain why a young Baptist pastor found himself in that situation, in a voluntary work camp in which 95% of the workers were either members of the Communist Party or were members of the Communist Youth. We heard the sad news of the King assassination as we were eating our lunch rations, sitting on bundles of harvested cane and listening to a loud speaker providing music and occasional news. I lowered my head in consternation when I heard several comments being made around me, “Look at that. They have killed him even though he is one of them.” In Cuban terms, the speaker was pointing out that King was just another American, someone who formed part of the Empire.

I took the opportunity to explain to those around me that King was a martyr, a fighter for racial justice and for the rights of the most humble of people. I said that he certainly was an American, but that he was not an imperialist. He belonged to the poor, the pacifists. Moreover not all Americans are imperialists, I said. Quickly a circle of workers gathered around me, interested to learn of a type of Christianity which was new to them: Christianity committed to a better world.

Read the part that he talks about Pastors for Peace


Pastors for Peace

There was very little international support for us. However Lucius Walker, a prophet and follower of Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped up from the very country which was blockading Cuba. Walker, of the organization IFCO, NY, organized the first Pastors for Peace Caravan at the beginning of the decade of the 90s. His goal was to bring Cuba humanitarian supplies donated by the North American people. Donations were gathered in 120 cities, first in the United States and later in Canada. This help was directed to Cuban schools, hospitals and churches. The Pastors for Peace defied the laws establishing the blockade, crossing the US-Mexican border with busses loaded with goods for Cuba. On one occasion, a bus carrying donations for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center in Havana was detained. Members of the caravan went on a hunger strike for many days during extremely high summer temperatures. They were supported by Havana pastors, who began another hunger strike in front of the U.S. Interests Section on the island. Finally, the bus was released and Havana residents welcomed the caravan members with great celebration.

The Pastors for Peace were doubtless inspired in their peaceful disobedience of unjust laws by the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. These caravans have been repeated every year. By 2010, a total of 21 caravans have reached Cuba. They have made a difference in the image our people have of what it means to be a pastor. I have experienced this change in the way I am treated in Cuban institutions. All I need to say is that I am a pastor and I am received and listened to with a great deal of respect.

The men and women of the Pastors for Peace Caravans have run the risk of jail and of thousands of dollars in fines for violating the embargo laws. It distresses us that the great press establishment of the United States has not given coverage to these heroes, who have offered such a powerful testimony of loving solidarity and of bravery in confronting unjust laws. Martin Luther King, Jr., would feel proud in the company of the men and women who continue walking the path which he began.

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