Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants

 This blog previously has argued that the U.S. needs more immigrants, not fewer.[1] Additional support for that argument is found in recent news about U.S. population data, U.S. low unemployment rate and need for more workers and the examples of some U.S. communities welcoming immigrants.

U.S. Population Data[2]

There are two inter-related sets of U.S. population data that reflect the need for more immigrants: low U.S. native-born birth rate and foreign -born membership in the U.S. work force.

In 2018, the number of babies born in the U.S. was 3.79 million, the lowest in 32 years and the fourth year in a row that this number declined. Similarly the U.S. general fertility rate—the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44—fell to 59.0, the lowest since the start of federal collection of this data. These statistics reflect fewer babies born to teenagers and unmarried women, lower Hispanic fertility rates and the increase in women obtaining college degrees.

Moreover, the total fertility rate—the estimated number of babies a woman would have over her lifetime—has generally been below the “replacement” number of 2.1 since 1971. This could mean (without immigration) a declining overall population and workforce too small to support a growing number of retirees and older people. Such support, of course, includes paying for the Social Security and medical benefits for senior citizens.

This decline in the native-born population has been counter-balanced by increases in the foreign-born who are members of the U.S. labor force. In 2018, there were  27.2 million foreign-born workers, representing 17.5% of the total work force, which is the highest percentage since 1996 when these records were first kept. This segment includes those who now are U.S. citizens, immigrants and those here temporarily. Moreover, the data shows that the foreign-born workers are becoming better educated and more likely to be Asian.

“The top overall reason for people to come to the United States is for employment,” said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Shortages of Workers in U.S.[3]

In Minnesota, for example, “factory officials — especially those in rural areas — say severe worker shortages are increasingly impeding their growth and profits. A March survey indicated that nearly 50% of such officials said “their inability to find qualified workers had hurt growth. . . .a rise of 14 percentage points from 2017.“

It is not just Minnesota that is experiencing this situation. The director of a recent survey of the nine-state mid-America region says, “finding and hiring qualified workers remained the chief threat to manufacturing economy for the region. … Of surveyed factory managers, approximately 44.7% identified labor shortages as the greatest threat to company success in the next 12 months.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial makes the same points on a national level. It says that “there is little evidence” for the belief “that lower-skilled immigrants undercut American workers,” but on the contrary “U.S. workers, taxpayers and businesses would benefit from more immigrants of all skill levels.”

This editorial also attacks the concept of  a merit-point immigration system, recently put forward by President Trump. It says that such a system “is vulnerable to political meddling and will discriminate against less-educated strivers who also boost the U.S. economy. Merit systems don’t measure entrepreneurship and would keep out many less-skilled workers who start small businesses like the neighborhood dry cleaner. The plan also doesn’t increase or streamline guest-worker visas, which are crucial to reduce the incentive for illegal immigration.” Moreover, “Low-skilled immigrants are contributing heavily to the nation’s entitlement programs and sustaining Rust Belt communities that otherwise would be losing population. More immigration will be vital to maintaining the “safety net” as the U.S. fertility rate last year fell to a 32-year low.”

U.S. Communities Welcoming Immigrants[4]

 Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and a Minnesota native, recently visited the city of Willmar, population of 19,610 (2010 census) in the southwestern part of Minnesota. Historically it was a largely white, Lutheran, Scandinavian town.

Now the town’s diversity is seen at its high school, which has  students from 30 countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The languages spoken there include English, Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Karen (the language of  an ethnic group from Myanmar). Visiting the school, Friedman saw “a Benetton ad of races, creeds, colors and clothing.” To assist this mixture the school has “Spanish-speaking and Somali-speaking cultural liaisons [who] work with teachers, students and parents, so families can learn how to advocate for their kids, what the rules are and just how the local culture works.”

The school’s principal, Paul Schmitz, summed up its challenge and mission this way, “Sustainable democracy in the world depends on the United States being a beacon of democracy. And that depends on how well we manage democracy in a pluralistic society.” And that depends on healthy public schools, because “the only shared experience we have any longer in America is through public education.”

Businesses in Willmar have donated money to “create an entrepreneurship program for area schools, through which selected kids begin their day by visiting or working at local businesses. There they have to come up with a business plan for a start-up, get it approved by a local banker, raise or borrow seed money themselves and work on the project instead of attending school for first part of each morning. . . . [One of the] Somali students . . . had started a company that makes short videos!”

Other Willmar collaboration occurs between a local community and technical college (Ridgewater College) and the K-12 schools, the local chamber of commerce, economic development commission and a community foundation. An example of that collaboration is the “Community Integration Center, which some Somali social entrepreneurs opened in 2017 to teach Somalis English and Minnesota culture and to teach Willmarites Somali and Somali culture.”

In short, Friedman discovered a successful community in Willmar because it needed workers to fill jobs, it embraced the immigrants and it has a critical mass of community leaders (business people, educators, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs). As Dana Mortenson, CEO of World Savvy, a global education organization, said, Minnesota towns that are rising are those “that . . .  need a trained work force with a good work ethic and . . . [that embraces] a redefined sense of community.”

More generally in Minnesota immigrants are slowing or halting or reversing population declines in 15 rural Minnesota counties. One such county [next to Willmar] is Stevens County, population of 9,726. Its county seat of Morris (5,286 population) has a large Latino contingent who were drawn here for employment by agribusinesses involved in dairy and beef cattle farming. A professor at the town’s University of Minnesota-Morris started evening  English-language courses for the newcomers that now operates twice a week at five levels of proficiency. This program also raises money to buy English books for the students and hosts events for long-time residents to meet the newcomers. The local library has books and library cards in Spanish. The newcomers organized a soccer tournament in the town.[6]

Conclusion

The objective reasons for wanting more U.S. immigration are clear—we need more workers. We also need younger workers who will help pay for the increasing costs of an aging native population. Rural areas with aging and declining population for their survival need immigrants.

These changes will be immensely aided by communities that welcome change and increasing diversity and develop ways to facilitate the assimilation of new people from different parts of the world with different lagnuages, customs, skin colors  and religions.

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[1]See, e.g.,these posts to dwkcommentaries:  “America’s Farms Need More Immigrants,” (Mar. 22, 2019); Businesses Need More Immigrants (Mar. 24, 2019); Trump Erroneously Says U.S. Is “Full,” (April 9, 2019).

[2]DeBarros, & Adamy, U.S. Births Fall to Lowest Level Since 1980s, W.S.J. (May 15, 2019); Freeman, A Historic Shortage of Americans, W.S.J. (May 15, 2019). 

[3] DePass, Minnesota Manufacturers say worker shortages hurting growth, StarTribune (May 15, 2019); Slaughter, Immigrants for the Heartland, W.S.J. (April 28, 2019); Editorial, Trump’s Immigration Progress, W.S.J. (May 17, 2019).

[4] Friedman, President Trump, Come to Willmar, N.Y. Times (May 14, 2019); Rao, In Minnesota counties losing population, immigrants slow the decline, StarTribune (May 12, 2019).

[5] Friedman’s account of visiting Willmar is reminiscent of his fond reminiscences of growing up in the successful integration of Jewish citizens with the existing Christian community of St. Louis Park, Minnesota and then the current intergraton in his home town of Latinos and Somalis into the exisitng white and African-Ameican population. (See Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, chs. 12, 13 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2016). See also, Reactions to Tom Friedman’s “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 13, 2017).

 

 

Cuban Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Measures

Naturally the Cuban government and its officials condemned the new U.S. measures. Other Cubans voiced various opinions on this subject.

Cuban Government[1]

“Today, the 17th of April, we celebrate another anniversary of the start of the military aggression at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) in 1961. The decisive response of the Cuban people in defense of the Revolution and socialism resulted in the first military defeat of imperialism in the Americas, in just 72 hours. Oddly enough, it is the date chosen by the current government of the United States to announce the adoption of new aggressive measures against Cuba and to reinforce the application of the Monroe Doctrine.”

“The Revolutionary Government rejects in the most energetic of terms the decision to permit hereinafter that action is taken in US courts against Cuban and foreign entities outside the jurisdiction of the United States, and that of intensifying the impediments for entry into the United States of the executives of companies that legally invest in Cuba and their relatives in properties that were nationalized.  These are actions envisaged in the Helms-Burton Act that were rejected a long time ago by the international community, that the Cuban nation has repudiated from the time when they were enacted and applied in 1996, and whose fundamental aim is to impose colonial protection over our country. Cuba also repudiates the decision to return to limiting the remittances which Cuban residents in the US send to their families and next of kin, to restrict even further travel by American citizens to Cuba and to apply additional financial penalties.”

“It energetically rejects the references that in Cuba attacks have been produced against American diplomats. They would like to justify their actions, as usual, using lies and blackmail. On last 10 April, General of the Army Raúl Castro declared: ‘Cuba is blamed for all evils, using lies in the worst style of Hitlerian propaganda.’To cover up and justify the evident failure of the sinister coup d’ét maneuver of designating, from Washington, a usurper “president” for Venezuela, the government of the United States resorts to slander.”

“It accuses Cuba of being responsible for the soundness and steadfastness shown by the Bolivarian and Chavista government, the people of that country and the civilian-military union which defends the sovereignty of their nation. It brazenly lies when it declares that Cuba keeps thousands of troops and security forces in Venezuela, influencing and determining what is happening in that sister country.”

“It has the cynicism of blaming Cuba for the economic and social situation besetting Venezuela after years of brutal economic penalties, conceived and applied by the United States and a number of allies, precisely to economically suffocate the population and to cause its suffering. Washington has gone to the extremes of pressuring the governments of third countries to attempt to persuade Cuba to withdraw this presumed and unlikely military and security support and even for it to stop providing backing and solidarity to Venezuela. The current US government is known, in its own country and internationally, for its unscrupulous tendency of using lies as a resort in domestic and foreign policy matters.   This is a habit coinciding with the old practices of imperialism.”

“Still fresh in our minds are the images of President George W. Bush, with the support of the current National Security Advisor John Bolton, lying shamelessly about the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a fallacious argument that served as an excuse to invade that country in the Middle East.”

“History also records the blowing up of the battleship “Maine” in Havana and the self-provoked incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, episodes that served as excuses to unleash wars of pillage in Cuba and Vietnam. We should not forget that the United States used fake Cuban insignia painted on the planes that carried out the bombing runs as a prelude to the aggression at the Bay of Pigs, in order to cover up the fact that they were really American planes”

“It must remain clear that US slander rests upon complete and deliberate lies. Its intelligence services possess more than enough proof, surely more than any other State, to know that Cuba has no troops nor does it participate in any operations of a military or security nature in Venezuela, even though it is a sovereign right of two independent countries to decide how they shall cooperate in the sector of defense, something that does not correspond to the United States to question. That accuser keeps over 250,000 soldiers on 800 military bases abroad, some of these in the American hemisphere.”

“Their government also knows that, as Cuba has publicly and repeatedly declared, the nearly 20,000 Cuban collaborators, over 60 % of them women, are in that Latin American nation to fulfill the same tasks that approximately another 11,000 Cuban professionals are fulfilling in 83 nations:   contributing to provide basic social services, fundamentally in the area of health, a fact that is acknowledged by the international community. It must remain absolutely clear that steadfast solidarity with the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is Cuba’s right as a sovereign State and it is also a right that forms part of the tradition and essential principles of the foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution.”

“No threats of reprisals against Cuba, no ultimatum or blackmail by the current US government is going to divert the internationalist conduct of the Cuban nation, despite the devastating human and economic damages caused our people by the genocidal blockade.”

“It behooves us to remember that Mafioso threats and ultimatums were already being used in the past when Cuba’s internationalist efforts were supporting the liberation movements in Africa while the US was backing the scurrilous regime of apartheid. They would have liked Cuba to renounce its commitments of solidarity with the peoples of Africa in exchange for promises of pardon, as if the Revolution had anything whatsoever that needed to be pardoned by imperialism.”

“At that time, Cuba rejected blackmail, as it rejects it today, with utmost disdain.”

“Last April 10th, General of the Army Raúl Castro recalled: ‘In 60 years of facing aggression and threats, we Cubans have demonstrated the iron-clad will to resist and overcome the most difficult of circumstances. Despite its immense power, imperialism does not have the capacity to crush the dignity of a united people, who are proud of their history, and of the freedom they have attained by the strength of so much sacrifice.’”

“The Government of Cuba calls on all members of the international community and on the citizens of the United States to stop the irrational escalation and the policy of hostility and aggression of the government of Donald Trump. With complete justification, year after year the Member States of the United Nations have called practically unanimously for the end to this economic war.  The peoples and governments of our region must see to it that, for the benefit of all, the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace prevail.”

“Last April 13th, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez declared: ‘Cuba continues to trust in its strength, its dignity and also in the strength and dignity of other independent and sovereign nations.  But it also continues to believe in the American people, in the Land of Lincoln, that they should be ashamed of those who act on the fringes of universal law on behalf of the entire American nation.’ Once again, Cuba repudiates the lies and threats, and reiterates that its sovereignty, independence and commitment to the cause of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are not negotiable.”

“Two days away from commemorating the 58th anniversary of the Playa Girón Victory, a historical point in national geography where the mercenary forces sent by imperialism tasted the dust of defeat, the Cuban Revolution reiterates its firm determination to face up to and prevail over the escalated aggression of the United States.”

Cuban Government Officials[2]

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded defiantly with these tweets: ‘Cubans do not surrender, nor do we accept laws about our destinies that are outside the Constitution. In Cuba we Cubans will not change the attitude towards those who hold the sword against us.’ He added,  ‘No one will rip the (Fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force, We Cubans do not surrender.’’”

In another tweet, Diaz-Canel said,  ‘Title III is not worse than the I and II, which are in the portfolio of actions against all the people of Cuba, Cubans do not give up.”

Also initially responding with tweets was Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He “called it an attack on international law, Cuban sovereignty and countries that would do business with the island: Aggressive escalation by US against Cuba will fail. Like at Giron, we will be victorious.’”

On state television, Rodriguez said, ‘”We will always be willing to have a dialogue based on absolute respect, but if the U.S. government has chosen a confrontational path we will not hesitate to defend the gains of the revolution at any cost.’” According to Rodríguez, ‘These decisions of Washington are an aggressive escalation of the US against Cuba that ‘will fail.’”

In another tweet, he also repudiated the ‘aggressive discourse, calumnies and measures to intensify the blockade announced by the US National Security Adviser [Bolton that] constitute a new aggression against the people of Cuba, the American people, Cuban emigration and sovereign states.’”

.”’But now there are nefarious interests in the government of that country, an increasingly monopoly, more McCarthyist policy against Our America and against our people, based on true slander.’”

“’We, of course, will not give up one bit of our principles. We will continue our solidarity support to the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and we will follow the course that our people, now in a free and universal referendum, has confirmed towards an increasingly just, advanced, increasingly inclusive Cuban socialism and the foreign policy of the Revolution Cubans will continue to be the same, as the Constitution confirms. Our principles are unchangeable and invariable.’”

  Other Cubans[3]

The most cogent opinion on these issues was provided by Rafael Rojas, who is one of Cuba’s most distinguished historians with many publications and the holder of university positions around the world. He wrote the following 10 objections to what he calls “the Bolton Doctrine” in Madrid’s El Pais.

  • “1. In the conflict between the United States, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the symbolic dimension weighs heavily. From Washington, Havana, Caracas, Managua and, of course, Miami, these differences are assumed as inertias or continuations of the Cold War. But in most of the world this is not the case: the conflict between communism and anti-communism is marginal on the planetary level. To have announced the new policy in Miami, on the anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, is to persist in that local, archaic entanglement that favors Manichaeism and the binary visions of contemporary politics.”
  • “ The announcement of the new measures from Miami, by Bolton, reinforces a double and harmful subordination: that of the policy towards Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to the sphere of the “national security” of the United States and that of the Washington agenda for those countries to the electoral cycles in the state of Florida.”
  • “ The sanctions against the three regimes adopt a totally unilateral sense at a time when various global institutions and diplomatic initiatives (OAS, UN, Lima Group, International Contact Group of the European Union, Prosur, Uruguayan and Mexican chanceries) try to arrange multilateral actions to face the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan crisis.”
  • “ During the last two decades, the US Department of State has maintained a differentiated policy for Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. It is evident that these regimes act coordinated in a permanent strategy of promoting authoritarian alternatives to democracy in the hemisphere, but, at the same time, the differences between the three political systems, the peculiarities of their respective relations with civil society and society are indisputable [as are] the opposition and nuances of its international commitments and Government priorities.”
  • “The definition of these regimes as “troika of tyrannies” is not only a theoretical simplification, that almost the whole of Latin America and the European Union, plus the UN, China and India, Africa and the Middle East do not share, but an incentive to the deployment of a greater diplomatic and military collaboration of those governments among themselves and with their allies in the world, especially Russia and Iran.”
  • “The application of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996, had been postponed by all the governments of the United States until now: the second by Bill Clinton, the two by George W. Bush and the two of Barack Obama [and the two??? by Trump]. The reason was always a mixture of recognition of the global unpopularity of the embargo against Cuba and the complications that could arise in relations with Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia, in case of demands to companies from those regions that operated in Cuba with confiscated properties. The thousands of cases of Cuban-American citizens that will be presented before the US justice system, in addition to being complicated and burdensome, will generate costs at the international level, as already observed with the European Union’s appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO).”
  • “Restrictions on American tourist trips and remittances from Cuban-Americans from the United States will not only affect the income of Miguel Diaz Canel’s government: they will also damage the small market sphere that attempts to articulate within the island. The new policy towards Cuba returns to the old paradox of the republican right to promote capitalism, closing the external ways by which capitalism can reproduce itself.”
  • “The sanctions against the Central Bank of Venezuela continue the punitive strategy undertaken so far by the Trump administration against the financial networks of the Government of Nicolás Maduro. Who announces that measure in Miami is the same one that recently proposed the sending of 5,000 soldiers to the border between Colombia and Venezuela and the same government that already openly complains about the inability of its ally, President Ivan Duque [Colombia’s current president], to reduce drug trafficking.”
  • “ The measures against the Government of Daniel Ortega also try to affect the sources of income of the Sandinista State, through the freezing of funds from the Corporate Bank of Nicaragua and the official investment and export agency, ProNicaragua, headed by the son of the presidential couple, Laureano Ortega Murillo. So far, this type of personalized sanctions has not yielded results in Cuba or Venezuela, in terms of promoting greater economic and political openness. Daniel Ortega, a leader so discredited by the Latin American left, gains prestige with the Bolton doctrine.”
  • “ The purpose of the unilateral US offensive against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua is not, apparently, a flexibilization but a breakdown of those regimes. But for that to happen, unlikely scenarios would have to occur: a military uprising in Venezuela, a coup in Nicaragua or a popular uprising in Cuba. In a possible conjuncture of simultaneous economic asphyxia in the three countries should not rule out a greater cohesion against the external enemy, despite the greater or lesser wear and tear of their respective leaders. Not even the collapse of one of those regimes would necessarily mean the collapse of the other two.”

Another article critical of the new U.S. measures in tones similar to those  expressed by the Cuban government and its officials appears in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

On the other hand, some Cubans disagreed with the Cuban government’s lengthy and vitriolic attacks on the new U.S. measures. These articles were an editorial in Diario de Cuba and one of its articles by Elias Amor; this Internet periodical is published in Madrid, Spain and says that “the  views expressed are not those of any government, nor of any corporate entity other than K&M Productions, LLC, of Boston, Massachusetts.”

A surprising opinion on the new U.S. policies was voiced by Antonio Rodiles, a member of the Cuban opposition, when saying he supported the new U.S. restrictions. “”Pressure is needed. In what other way will it be possible to stop a regime like this? I do not see another Possibility.”

Conclusion[4]

 The lengthy declaration by the Cuban Government was to be expected. Criticism of the official position of the Cuban Government on these issues from  Dario de Cuba was also to be expected as it always publishing such pieces and makes one wonder whether it secretly is funded by the U.S. government.

Most persuasive are the 10 reasons advanced by respected historian Rafael Rojas. I agree that the speech by John Bolton seems erroneously anchored in the views of the Cold War, which has been over for some time; that the new measures seem derived from U.S. political concerns about the state of Florida in national politics; that the new measures totally ignore multilateral efforts to solve the many issues in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua; that the new U.S. measures encourage these three countries to seek help from Russia and Iran; that the previous U.S. waiver of enforcement of provisions of the Hale-Burton Act were based on realistic assessments that the related U.S. embargo of Cuba was rejected by virtually every country in the world whereas enforcement of those provisions of the Act would generate costs at the international level, including tension with U.S. allies; that the restriction of U.S. remittances and travel to Cuba will harm emerging Cuban free enterprise; and that the true purpose of these new U.S. measures does not appear to encourage actions consistent with U.S. interests, but instead to cause a breakdown of their regimes.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Revolutionary Government of Cuba: The Cuban revolution reiterates its firm determination to face the escalation in aggression by the United States (April 18, 2019).

[2] Solomon, Reichmann & Lee (AP), Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y. Times ( April 17, 2019).

[3] Rojas, Ten Objections to the Bolton doctrine, El Pais (April 18, 2019); Capote, Let’s talk Cuban about the Helms-Burton, Granma (April 17, 2019); Editorial, The Helms-Burton Act and the responsibility of the Cuban regime, Diario de Cuba (April 18, 2019); Amor, Will the Cubans be impoverished by the Helms-Burton Law?, Diario de Cuba (April 20, 2019).

[4] As always corrections and opinions about this post are welcome. Are there any other significant Cuban statements on these new U.S. measures? If so, add them in comments to this post.

“Whose People Will Be Our People?”

This was the title of the November 18 sermon by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

Preparing for the Word

The Prelude for the service was Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto (Movements I and II) that was performed by Douglas Carlsen, trumpet (Minnesota Orchestra) and Melanie Ohnstad, organ.

Associate Pastor, Rev.  Alanna Simone Tyler, then led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “O Holy One, we gather today aware that we fall short of your hopes for us. We are a people divided. We do not trust one another. We forget we belong to the whole human family, not merely to our little circle. We do not accept the stranger as if it were you, O Christ. Forgive us, and make us one again, with you and with those from whom we are estranged.”

Listening for the Word

The Scriptures: Ruth 1: 1-18 (NRSV):

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”

“Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

“So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’”

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’”

“When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.”

The Sermon:

“Few stories in Hebrew Scripture are as central to our Christian narrative, and are as reflective of what God is up to in Jesus, as the account of Naomi and Ruth.”

In many ways it’s a thoroughly modern story, a tale of love and survival, of refugees and immigrants, of loyalty and generosity, of family legacy and the quiet strength of women.” (Emphasis added.)

“Naomi, an Israelite, marries a man from Bethlehem. They flee famine in Israel and travel as refugees to the land of Moab to the east, beyond the river Jordan, where they settle as a family.”

“But after a time Naomi’s husband dies, and with no one to provide for her and being a refugee from a foreign land, she faces serious hardship. Fortunately, her sons have grown up. They marry women of Moab, Orpah and Ruth, and can now care for their mother.”

“We often view the story of Ruth as the tale of individuals and the decisions they make. But their lives, and this story, are lived in a much broader context. Naomi, from Israel, and Ruth, from Moab, represent two nations historically in conflict. Their people are enemies.” (Emphasis added.)

“To get a feel for the unsettling power of this narrative, imagine it set in the modern Middle East. If we replace Moab with Palestinian Gaza, and Bethlehem with Israeli Tel Aviv, we begin to get a sense of the larger, treacherous, complicated implications of this story.” (Emphasis added.)

“For a time all is well for Naomi in her new life in Moab, but then tragedy strikes again. Both sons die, leaving her vulnerable once more. The only hope for Naomi is to return to Bethlehem where she has relatives on whom she might be able to depend. She learns the famine that caused them to leave in the first place is over, and she decides to go home.”

“When Naomi sets off for Bethlehem, her two daughters-in-law decide to go with her, but Naomi stops them. She tells them to go home to their own people, where they have a chance of surviving, of marrying again and starting new families, and being among their own people. Orpah chooses to return home, but Ruth’s love and loyalty compel her to go with her mother-in-law, who tries again to dissuade her. I imagine them standing on the banks of the Jordan, the border between Moab and Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, Naomi urging her to return home one last time. But Ruth stands her ground.”

“’Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!’ she says to Naomi.”

  • Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.’ (Ruth 1:17-18)” (Emphasis added.)

“It’s a stunning soliloquy, with far-reaching consequences. With her words, Ruth reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions. She chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations. She sets self aside and declares her intention to use love as the measure by which she will live.” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth points to the dangers of exaggerated nationalism and the risks of restrictive boundaries within the human family. The story upends old rules about identity, and proposes new ways of thinking about relationships. It shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.” (Emphasis added.)

“After Ruth’s words, Naomi really has no choice, so the two of them set off together for Bethlehem, climbing up into the hills of Judah from the Jordan Valley. Once they get there, they have no means of sustaining themselves. In order to provide food for the two of them, Ruth goes to glean in the fields with other poor, hungry people, picking up leftovers after the harvest. She happens to do this, to glean, in the field of Boaz, a kinsman of her dead husband’s family.”

“Boaz sees her and is attracted to her, and asks about her and, eventually, with a little encouragement from Ruth, falls in love with her. They have a son named Obed, whose wife has a son named Jesse. Remember the prophetic prediction that ‘a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse?’ That shoot would be David, son of Jesse, great-grandson of Ruth – David, who would become king of Israel, and from whose line the Messiah would one day come, as the prophets of old had foretold.” (Emphasis added.)

“In other words, without the courage and strength of Naomi and the perseverance and love of Ruth, the story would end. There would have been no Obed, no Jesse, no David – and, eventually, no Jesus. The entire biblical story for Christians rests on this one foreign enemy woman, a young widow who leaves her own people, with great risk, goes with her mother-in-law, to support her, because it was the right and just thing to do. As the Shaker poem the choir sang earlier says, ‘Love will do the thing that’s right.’”

“’Where you go I will go, ‘Ruth says. ‘Where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.’”

The prophet Micah asks, ‘What does the Lord require of us’ Ruth, a foreigner not under the law of the Hebrews, instinctively knows the answer: ‘To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.’” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth is a parable for our time. It may not be Moab and Israel, but in America today we live as if we were enemies of one another. There’s no longer a common understanding of what unites us as a people. We think the worst of those with whom we disagree. Everything has a zero-sum quality to it. Either you’re with me or you’re against me.” (Emphases added.)

“Your people cannot possibly be my people.”

“American individualism has always been in creative and generative tension with the call to live as one community. These days, however, that tension has largely been displaced by rampant sectarianism. Very few now try even to talk across the divide anymore. Rigid partisanship precludes the possibility of building a shared purpose as a people. We cannot see beyond our own firm boundaries.”

“Presidential historian Michael Beschloss spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum last Tuesday. More than 1700 people were here. The sanctuary and Westminster Hall were filled to overflowing.” [2]

“We were surprised by the crowd. Why did so many people come? The midterm elections were over and the relentless campaigning was behind us , and I think people wanted to take a longer view of where things stand in America. We had just marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending the First World War. And our national Day of Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, always a time to pause and reflect on the road we as a people have trod, and on the journey ahead. People came that day to find hope for the future of our nation.”

“The questions asked of Beschloss at the Town Hall Forum focused less on any particular president, current or historic, and more on the present contentiousness in our land. People wrote question expressing serious anxiety about the health of our democracy. They wanted to hear from a professional historian whether things are as bad as they seem. They are, in his view.“

“Beschloss is deeply concerned about the nation and its future. In his study of history, he said, he knew of few times in our country’s life as fraught with division and discord, and the potential for worse, as ours. Even as he expressed hope about the enduring strength of American democracy, he warned about the risk of conflict escalating into violence.”

“This is not only a Republican-Democrat problem, or a conservative-progressive matter. It’s not even solely a political problem, nor merely a lack of civility. It’s something far more than that.”

“It’s the same question Ruth faced, a question of identity and belonging: whose people will be my people? Our people?”

“It shows up in the rural-urban divide. It can be seen in the widening gulf between those with a high level of economic comfort and those who have been left behind – and in the policies aimed at keeping things like that. We see it in unresolved racial disparities among us. It’s there in the backlash against immigrants. There’s a growing education gap and a perception of elitism among us.”

“We’re all caught up in it. We’re all caught up in the cultural dividing lines that cut across the nation. And naturally we think the “other side” is at fault; but none of us is innocent.”

“Beschloss said that when American presidents have found themselves leading in a time of war they always become more religious. He described Lincoln coming to Washington as an agnostic, and maybe even an atheist,, but as he sent men off to fight and die on the battlefield he turned to the Bible and to prayer for wisdom and strength and succor. We can hear it in his speeches; he quoted scripture all the time. He needed something beyond his own resources to bear the terrible burden and to help resolve the national crisis.”

“We need something, as well, beyond our own limited resources. What we’re facing, I think, can be described as a spiritual problem. We’re too mired in mundane, daily outrage to see things from a higher point of view.” (Emphasis added.)

“In contrast, Ruth refuses to let the prevailing perception of reality – that Moab and Israel are enemies – define her own point of view. She chooses to live according to a different reality. She seeks a deeper, broader, more generous perspective on the human family. She lifts her vision above the discord and looks beyond it. She wants to see things more as God intends them to be, not as the world sees them.”

“We’re in a moment where our nation lacks that kind of moral vision, a vision that looks beyond the immediacies of our divided house, a vision summoning us to conceive anew the possibilities the American experiment was meant to offer. We cannot keep living like this; there’s simply too much at stake not to try to reclaim the values at the heart of our democracy – values never perfectly implemented, but that have served as aspirational measures of our life together.”

This is a Naomi and Ruth moment, and the question facing us is: whose people will be our people?” (Emphasis added.)

As Christians, we believe that Jesus embodies God’s response to that question.” (Emphasis added.)

“In the coming season we will we speak of this one who is born in Bethlehem, the descendant of David. We will speak of him as Emmanuel, God with us.”

Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally, even at the risk of losing his own life.” (Emphasis added.)

In Jesus, and in Ruth, we have the blueprint for human community: a generosity of spirit that starts by saying, “Your people will be our people.” (Emphasis added.)

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon provided historical and contemporary contexts that made the story of Ruth and Naomi more powerful.

Naomi and Ruth were from countries, Israel and Moab respectively, that were enemies. Yet Ruth “reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions.” She “chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations” and thereby “shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.”

“Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally.”

It is easiest for nearly everyone to first experience love in a family and define yourself as a member of that family. Then as we grow up we enlarge the family group to include friends and neighbors, eventually people from a geographical area and then a nation. All of these groups are logical and hopefully enriching.

The challenge then is to understand and treasure all human beings who are outside these groups. We are offered opportunities to do so by reading about people in other cultures and lands, by seeking to engage with nearby neighbors with different cultures and traditions, by welcoming newcomers of all faiths and traditions to our cities and towns and by traveling to other lands.

I have been blessed in this quest by a superb education; by living and studying for two years in the United Kingdom; by traveling to many other countries in Europe, North America and Latin America and a few countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa; by being a pro bono asylum lawyer for Salvadorans, Somalis, Colombians and men from Afghanistan and Burma; by learning and teaching international human rights law; by researching and writing blog posts about Cuba, Cameroon and other countries and issues; and by getting to know their peoples and by getting to know people in Minnesota from many other countries.

Especially meaningful for me has been involvement in Westminster’s Global Partnerships in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine and learning more about these countries’ histories, traditions and problems and establishing friendships with individuals in these countries. For example, this past May, individuals from these three counties visited Westminster in Minneapolis and we all shared our joys and challenges. Especially enriching were three worship services focused on each of our partnerships.

For example, our May 20, 2018, service on Pentecost Sunday featured our Palestinian brothers and sisters from our partner congregation, Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.[3]

We had Palestinian music from the Georges Lammam Ensemble (San Francisco, California). Rev. Munther Isaac, the Senior Pastor of our partner congregation, provided the Pastoral Prayer and led the unison Lord’s Prayer. My new friend, Adel Nasser from Bethlehem, chanted the Twenty-third Psalm in Arabic.

Then Rev. Mitri Raheb, the President of Dar-Al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, had an illuminating conversational sermon with Rev. Hart-Andersen that was centered on the Biblical text (Acts 2: 1-12). This passage talks about a gathering in Jerusalem of  people “from every nation under heaven,” each speaking “in the native language of each” and yet hearing, “each of us, in our own native language” and thus understanding one another. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation:

  • Hart-Andersen said the text emphasized that all of these people were in one place together, affirming the vast display of God’s creative goodness in the human family when no one has to surrender his or her own identity and thereby affirms the identity of every human being.
  • This is what God wants in the human family, Hart-Andersen continued. Make space for people who are different. The miracle of Pentecost is the existence of bridges over these differences and the destruction of walls that we tend to build around our own little groups.
  • Hart-Andersen also pointed out that Minnesota today is like that earlier gathering at Pentecost with over 100 different language groups in the State.
  • Raheb agreed, saying that Palestine is also very diverse and God wants diversity in the human family. As a result, there is a need to build bridges between different groups, and the Covenant Agreement between Westminster and Christmas Lutheran Church expressly calls for building bridges between the U.S. and Palestine. He also treasures the gathering this month of Cubans and Cameroonians with the Palestinians and Americans because it helped to build bridges among all four of these groups. We were experiencing Pentecost in Minneapolis.
  • Raheb also mentioned that the original Pentecost featured the miracle of understanding among the people speaking different languages. The Holy Spirit provided the software enabling this understanding.
  • Hart-Andersen said the diversity of the human family compels us to build bridges. The mission of the church is to resist walls that keep us apart.
  • Raheb emphasized that Acts 2:1-12 is a foundational text for Arabic Christianity as it mentions Arabs as being present on Pentecost.
  • He also contrasted Pentecost with the Genesis account (Chapter 11) of “the whole earth [having] one language and the same words” and the resulting arrogance to attempt to build a tower to the heavens. God responded by confusing their language” so that they would not understand one another and stop building the tower of Babel. This is emblematic of empires throughout history that have attempted to impose one language on all parts of the empire.

Yes, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ!

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[1]  The text of the sermon is available on the church’s website.

[2] See Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum, dwkcomentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2018).

[3] The bulletin and an audio recording for this May 20 service are available on the Westminster website.

 

Nelson Mandela’s Letters from Prison

This Summer  The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela was published. It contains over 250 letter, over half of which previously had been unpublished. Tayari Jones, a professor of English at Emory University, said in the New York Times that these letters reveal Mandela was “as vulnerable as any other human,” especially to being stripped of his family and “the “agony of separation.” He lost “decades of intimacy with a young family, growing away from him in his absence.”[1]

The New York Times published a few of these letters from his imprisonment (11/07/62 to 02/11/90).[2]  Here are some tidbits from these letters:

  • On 02/04/69, in a letter to his two daughters, Mandela said, “Nobody knows when [I will come back to you.] But I am certain that one day I will be back at home to live in happiness with you until the end of my days.”
  • On 04/02/69 in a letter to his wife Winnie, he said that Rev. Norman Vincent Peale had asserted “that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness and live a happy life, is already halfway through to victory. . . . Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost.”
  • In a 11/03/69 letter about the death of his son Thembi in a car accident, Mandela referred to the man who in the prosecution of Apostle Paul had called him a “pest”   and “the ringleader of the Nazarene Sect.” But this “’Nazarene Sect’ was to spread to almost every corner of the globe and be embraced by many nations as their state religion. The man who was described as a perfect pest later became a saint loved and respected by millions of Christians throughout the world.”
  • In a 07/01/70 letter to wife Winnie, he said, “ We fight against one of the last strongholds of reaction on the African Continent. In cases of this kind our duty is a simple one — at the appropriate time to state clearly, firmly and accurately the aspirations that we cherish and the greater South Africa for which we fight. Our cause is just. It is a fight for human dignity and for an honorable life.”
  • In a 08/31/70 letter to another son, Mandela said, “It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. Those who want to wipe out poverty from the face of the earth must use other weapons, weapons other than kindness. …This is not a problem that can be handled by individual acts of hospitality. . . .Experience shows that this problem can be effectively tackled only by a disciplined body of persons, who are inspired by the same ideas and united in a common cause.”
  • In a 02/01/75 letter to Winnie, he said, “internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others — qualities which are within easy reach of every soul — are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. . . .Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. . . . Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. … No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise and win in the end.”
  • In an 08/19/76 letter to wife Winnie, he said that writing to her is “the only time I ever feel that someday in the future it’ll be possible for humanity to produce saints who will really be upright and venerable, inspired in everything they do by genuine love for humanity and who’ll serve all humans selflessly.”
  • In a 05/27/79 letter to a journalist friend, Mandela said that the “numerous messages of good wishes and hope sent by people from different walks of life, have cut through massive iron doors and grim stone walls, bringing into the cell the splendor and warmth of springtime..”

These letters are truly inspiring to those suffering in prison and to those on the outside. They also instruct us on the outside, as Tayari Jones said, “for people in prison, letters remain the best way to engage with a society that has forcibly excluded them”and “someone, somewhere—in a prison across town, in a border detention facility, in a country you’ve never known—is waiting for a letter.”

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[1]  Mandela, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela (W.W. Norton & Co. 2018); Jones, What Mandela Lost, N.Y. Times (July 6, 2018).

[2] ‘Hope Is a Powerful Weapon’: Unpublished Mandela  Prison Letters, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2018).

White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration     

My prior post about the U.S. need for immigrants also mentioned the fear many Americans have of immigration. Although I favor immigration, I did not make explicit one of the reasons why many white Americans fear immigration.

Now Pat Buchanan has made it explicit. Last week on the Laura Ingraham show when he said that the demographic danger facing whiteness “is the great issue of our time. And, the real question is whether Europe has the will and the capacity, and America has the capacity to halt the invasion of the countries until they change the character — political, social, racial, ethnic — character of the country entirely.” He added, “You cannot stop these sentiments of people who want to live together with their own and they want their borders protected.”[1]

Buchanan expanded on this point on his blog, “The existential question, however, thus remains: How does the West, America included, stop the flood tide of migrants before it alters forever the political and demographic character of our nations and our civilization?”[2]

This prompted the New York Times columnist Charles Blow, an African-American man, to observe: “Make no mistake here, Buchanan is talking about protecting white dominance, white culture, white majorities and white power.”

According to Blow, we are seeing “white extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety.” Some white Americans have “conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.”

This fear, says Blow, underlies many aspects of the Trump Administration: “immigration policy, voter suppression, Trump economic isolationist impulses, his contempt for people from Haiti and Africa, the Muslim ban, his rage over Black Lives Matter and social justice protests. Everything.”

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[1] Blow, White Extinction Anxiety, N.Y. Times  (June 24, 2018).

[2] Buchanan, Trump and the Invasion of the West (June 19, 2018)

Nelson Mandela Makes Connection with Cecil Rhodes 

Although Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) and Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) were not contemporaries, they both played important roles in South African history. Mandela, of course, survived imprisonment  for nearly 27 years for his struggle against the apartheid regime in that country to become its president and a world-renowned figure. Rhodes was an Englishman who earned a fortune from mining diamonds (De Beers Consolidated Mines) in that country and neighboring Zimbabwe (f/k/a Rhodesia) and who served as Prime Minister in the Cape Colony.  In 1903 his will established the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University in England.

On the centennial of those Scholarships, Mandela established an indirect connection with Rhodes. His Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Rhodes Trust created a joint venture called the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, whose “central purpose . . . is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa.” It does so by operating “a Scholarships and Leadership Development programme . . . [f]ocusing on the four principles of the Foundation: Reconciliation, Education, Entrepreneurship and Leadership. It selects “young leaders from 25 different African countries . . . [to make] inward and outward journeys of self-discovery . . .[to create] community across differences, and . . . [to grow and learn] more about Africa, its peoples and . . . [to make a]  contribution towards the development of the continent.”

Mandela’s Speech[1]

To mark this historic joint venture, Mandela addressed a gathering of Rhodes Scholars and dignitaries at Westminster Hall in London on July 2, 2003. Below is a photograph of his making that speech.

He said his objective in so doing was “to close the circle” by letting “our peoples, the ones formerly poor citizens and the others good patricians – politicians, business people, educators, health workers, scientists, engineers and technicians, sports people and entertainers, activists for charitable relief – join hands to build on what we have achieved together and help construct a humane African world, whose emergence will say a new universal order is born in which we are each our brother’s keeper.” This will be “a partnership for freedom, peace, prosperity and friendship.”

Mandela also trusted that this joint venture was for “the labourer who toils on the African farm, fighting for a life of dignity; the girl child battling against great odds for an opportunity to realize her potential; the poor AIDS orphan bereft of family or care; the rural poor eking out a subsistence, deprived of the most basic services and facilities.”

Rhodes, he said, was “that great entrepreneur, [who] made most of the money [in South Africa] which he left in legacy for scholars from across the world to benefit from for the past hundred years. It speaks of a growing sense of global responsibility that in this second century of its operations the Rhodes Trust finds it appropriate to redirect some of its attention and resources back to the origin of that wealth. We can only imagine how Rhodes himself would have identified with this decision to develop human capacity in modern day South Africa, enabling that country to continue being a competitive presence in the world as it was in those fields within which he operated during his times.”

Mandela closed his speech with this quotation from the preamble of the South African Constitution: “”We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past, Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and, Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” (Emphasis added.)

Other Participants in the Celebration

This blogger was present on this occasion in London’s Westminster Hall, and a prior post recounts the other remarks by Lord Waldegrave, the Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees; “Nicky” Oppenheimer, the Chairman of DeBeers, the diamond mining company started by Rhodes in South Africa; Bill Clinton, the former U.S. President; and Tony Blair, then the Prime Minister of the U.K.

Most memorably when all the speeches were finished, everyone on the speakers’ stage walked the over 200-feet length of the hall through the audience. Mandela, then nearly 85 years old, and frail, was aided in making the long walk; his right arm was held by Tony Blair; his left, by Bill Clinton. They brought tears to our eyes as they passed six feet from us on their journey through the Hall. Below are photographs of the three men during their walk and of the Hall (with a different audience).

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The Mandela Foundation’s decision to establish a joint venture with the trust created by a white Englishman who made a fortune in South Africa illustrates, I think, at least two of Mandela’s principles that are discussed in “Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage” by Richard Stengel: “See the Good in Others” because “no one is only good or evil and no one is evil at heart” and ” Have Core Principle–All Else Is Tactics.”[2]

As noted in another post, the world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela and his Foundation’s website lists events around the world to commemorate this occasion. (That post also discusses Mandela’s being inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.)

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[1] Mandela, Address at sitting of joint houses of Parliament, Westminster in celebration of 100 years of Rhodes Scholars (July 2, 2003).

[2] Stengel, Mandela’s Way: Lessons for an Uncertain Age, Chaps. 6, 7 (Broadway Books, New York, 2010, 2018).

Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution

The world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who survived nearly 27 years in South African prisons to become the President of his country and to end its apartheid system with grace and humility.[1]

Also should be remembered was Mandel’s “special fondness for Fidel Castro, who had inspired the African National Congress (ANC) radicals with his daring revolution in 1959 [and] Cuba’s intervention in Angola. Mandela and his colleagues saw Cuba as “a dangerous model; a freak victory, but they were fired by the story of how Castro and Che Guevara, with only ten other survivors from their ship the Granma had mustered a guerilla army of 10,000 in eighteen months, and had marched on Havana in January 1959.” For Mandela, “Castro, not the Party, . . . had realized the moment of revolution had come. He would never lose his admiration for Castro.” Mandela’s “chief defiance of the Western World was his championing of the two American bête noirés [persons one especially dislikes], Libya’s Muammar] Qadaffi and Castro.”[2]

That was why only a year-and-a-half after his release from prison, Mandela went to the city of Matanzas in Cuba to give an emotional speech on July 26, 1991, which is Cuba’s national independence day, with Fidel in attendance as shown in the photograph below.

Mandela thanked Fidel and Cuba for helping the ANC to defeat Angolan invaders of South Africa in 1988.  That defeat, Mandela said, “enables me to be here today.”[3] Here are just a few of his other tributes to Cuba that day:[4]

  • “Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country that has done so much for the peoples of Africa. The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
  • “From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.”
  • “We admire the achievements of the Cuban revolution in the sphere of social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the fields of health, education, and science.
  • We “are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa. Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.”

In response, Fidel in his three-hour speech without notes called Mandela “one of the most extraordinary symbols of this era” by explaining that “apartheid is capitalism and imperialism in its fascist form.”[5]

Conclusion

In July 1991 I was totally unaware of the Mandela-Fidel connection and of Mandela’s speech in the city of Matanzas. It only was in the first decade of the 21st century that I learned of the existence of that city as a result of going there on three mission trips  to visit its Versalles Redeemer Presbyterian-Reformed Church, which is a partner of my Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. Now I have friends from that city. [6]

I was somewhat surprised to find that Mandela’s speech has no mention of Matanzas as a major port of entry for African slaves to work on sugar plantations, especially in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, it is said, due to the high number of both slaves and, importantly, free Afro-Cubans in Matanzas, the retention of African traditions is especially strong there. Perhaps that is the reason Fidel chose this celebration to be in that city. The city’s San Severiino Museum has an exhibit about Cuba’s slave trade.

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[1] Details about the commemoration are available on the website of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. One of the events is the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 17, 2018, which  this year will be given by former U.S. President Barack Obama and will be covered in a future post to this blog.

[2] Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography at 152, 191, 414, 554 (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1999).

[3] Id. at 414.

[4] Speech by Nelson Mandela at the Rally in Cuba (July 26, 1991).

[5] Sampson at 414.

[6]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Cuban Revolution and Religion (Dec. 30, 2011); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation (Jan. 4, 2015).