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Building Bridges with Cubans:
An Interview With Kathryn Hall

by Seth Sandronsky
July 17, 2004

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Kathryn Hall is the director of Birthing Project USA, the only national African American, grassroots community-based maternal and child health program in the U.S. She is based in Sacramento and was interviewed by Seth Sandronsky.

Seth Sandronsky: You are a long-time health care professional. How did your work lead you to become a Cuba activist?

Kathryn Hall: In every U.S. city, including Sacramento, the infant death rate for black babies is at least twice that of other babies. When I realized that Cuba has better healthy birth outcomes than the U.S., plus that island nation has a 66 percent African-based population, I was amazed. I had to go see Cuba for myself.

SS: The U.S. is a rich nation. How does the infant mortality rate in the U.S. compare with Cuba’s?

KH: According to the latest official data, the U.S. ranks 28th (7.1 infant deaths per 1,000 births), and Cuba ranks 26th (6.4 infant deaths per 1,000 births) worldwide. In California, the infant mortality rate for non-black babies is 5.0 versus 12.8 for African American babies per 1,000 births.

Locally, the overall rate of infant mortality is around 14 for African American babies versus 6.2 for all others (U.S. Centers for Disease Control). Now, you can see why I am so excited about what is happening in Cuba!

SS: About every third American under the age of 65 lack health insurance for a month or more during the past two years. How is Cuba able to provide health care for all of its citizens?

KH: The social contract between Cuba and her people is such that each person has access to health care, education and housing. There is no profit incentive, only a commitment to utilize their human resources as effectively as possible within the realities of the U.S. blockade.

Cuba has a very sophisticated health care system for its 11 million citizens, with one physician for every 168 people. The country produces 2000 new physicians every year. America has one physician for every 455 people.

SS: The Pastors for Peace caravan visited Sacramento in late June. What is this group doing to improve U.S. Cuba relations?

KH: For the last 14 years, Pastors for Peace has been raising awareness of the U.S. trade blockade and its impact on us and the Cuban people. Pastors for Peace has been giving ordinary people an opportunity to caravan across the country to Mexico, and collect medicine and equipment to be taken to Cuba.

Also, Pastors for Peace gives speeches and media interviews to educate communities about the impact of the Cuba blockade. This year the caravan began at the Canadian border and is going through 134 cities.

This year is a critical because of the new U.S. policies that include a transition team to replace the president of Cuba, and increased agitation and aggression aimed at the Cuban people. I don’t believe most American realize that this is happening. The summer of 2004 is shaping up to be the historic moment of civil challenge to this morally bankrupt atrocity which is being done in our name.

SS: Young Americans have received full scholarships from the Cuban government to attend the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. How did this opportunity come about?

KH: There was a Congressional Black Caucus delegation to Cuba in June 2000. A congressman from a large district in the Mississippi Delta noted the lack of doctors there. President Fidel Castro responded with an offer to send Cuban doctors to Mississippi that was declined. Castro’s second offer was 500 full scholarships for U.S. students to study medicine in Cuba with the requirement that the new doctors return to poor areas in America to work.

There are now 81 of these medical students in Cuba, 13 from California and one from Sacramento. For more information about attending medical school in Cuba, contact the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing.

SS: How can people become involved in Cuba activism?

KH: Californians can let their state representative know they endorse the state resolution to remove trade, financial and travel restrictions to Cuba. We really need to educate ourselves. Excellent websites include:

Sharminie Peries: The Bush Plan For Cuba
Julie Webb-Pullman: Cuba in the Sights

[This interview first appeared in the July-August issue of Because People Matter. More recently, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control approved the Cancer-Vax Corp.’s deal with Cuba for exclusive rights to complete the clinical development of three experimental medications for cancer treatment created there. The biotech firm is based in Carlsbad, CA. It will in time be able to sell the cancer drugs in Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the U.S. and Western Europe. Cancer-Vax will pay Cuba in food and medicines/medical supplies for its public health care.]

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:

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