Cuba was ruled by a dictator in the 1950’s, his name was Batista. John F. Kennedy once charged that Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans and turned a Democratic Cuba into a police state, all with the United States supporting his “reign of terror.” The U.S was particularly fond of Batista because in the 1950’s, as Kennedy pointed out, “U.S. companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands – almost all the cattle ranches – 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions – 80 percent of the utilities – and practically all the oil industry – and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports.” Fidel Castro had seen enough and the Cuban Revolution was birthed.

While ousting the US’s preferred dictator certainly didn’t win Castro friends here, what motivated President Kennedy to ultimately decide that Castro- the very man who ousted the monster Batista, whom Kennedy criticized- must go were the new reforms implemented that effectively seized the assets of American corporations and elites in Cuba. That was intolerable. In 1961, the CIA unsuccessfully tried to invade Cuba and remove Castro from power. During a United Nations debate on the failed invasion, the US ambassador Adlai Stevenson defended Kennedy’s actions and insisted that the United States reserved the right to send military assistance, if need be, to any people struggling anywhere for human rights and democratic freedoms. Unbeknownst to the US ambassador, the Cuban ambassador had just received a letter from the President of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Robert Williams:

“Mr. Ambassador:
Please convey the following appeal to Mr. Adlai Stevenson: Now that the United States has proclaimed military support for people willing to rebel against oppression, oppressed Negroes in the [American] South urgently request tanks, artillery, bombs, money, and the use of American airfields and white mercenaries to crush the racist tyrants who have betrayed the American Revolution and the Civil War. We request the world’s prayers for this noble undertaking.”

The Williams appeal to the US ambassador, at a time when blacks were literally targets of massive terror campaigns, was unanswered. Frankly, some people matter in America and others don’t. Some crises are not seen as such while others will never be allowed to experience crisis. This is where we are today in Flint, Michigan. In a city of over 100,000, not one soul is able to access safe water to bathe, cook or drink from their faucets; only bottled or filtered water is safe. This is an extraordinary burden in a city where over forty percent of residents live in poverty. Children in Flint are being poisoned by lead from the water- blood lead levels have doubled or tripled in some cases. All of this has been going on for about two years, in America.

For over a year, city residents complained but state officials ignored them. Various tests were done showing lead in the water but residents were told all is fine. In fact, there are allegations that the city of Flint and the state worked to skew testing outcomes in order to maintain the status quo. The Governor’s Chief of Staff even raised the issue to the governor but that changed nothing. Most puzzling, it was found that federal law had not been followed in that an anti-corrosive agent was needed before the Flint River could be deemed safe for drinking. This was known in 2011. Many stop signs, all blown willfully. How is all this possible in the land of the free? In addition to being over forty percent impoverished, Flint is majority black. Perhaps we should start our analysis there.

In 2014, West Virginia had their own water crisis after the Elk River chemical spill. The spill was quickly acknowledged, the governor declared a state of emergency (which only happened in Michigan about a week ago) and federal agencies were activated to provide relief. After all, water is a necessity, not a luxury. The responses are vastly different. In the same way that Robert Williams and his community were in a crisis and ignored, Flint is today. Some crises and the people experiencing them matter, others don’t.


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