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BRATTLEBORO REFORMER: Local woman leads health-care delegation to Cuba

April 6th, 2009

By Chris Garofolo

Just 90 miles off the southern end of Florida, the tiny island nation of Cuba has been at the center of America's foreign policy for a half century.

Since the early 1960s, the U.S. has maintained an economic embargo against the communist government of Fidel Castro, who came to power after a 1959 revolution overthrowing Fulgencio Batista.

Judy Greenburg and a delegation from the nonprofit group Witness for Peace want to ensure the embargo policy is lifted on the Cuban people under the Obama administration.

And they're willing to go there to see firsthand the effects of the measure.

From March 14-24, Greenburg and a collection of health care professionals, social service and medical health service representatives. It was the first time groups were licensed to return to Cuba since 2005.

With the general license obtained by the group, Greenburg said they had to show the purpose of the trip was full-time professional work, completing research through an approved agenda and making the information public following the tour.

This was not a sightseeing visit, she said, it provided a group of American health care professionals the opportunity to tour Cuban hospitals, doctor's offices, the Ministry of Health and medical institutes throughout the country.

"It's a really powerful experience, we were in tears for part of the time," she said.

As advocates for health care, Greenburg said the delegation was very outspoken during the tour, asking questions throughout the entire visit. Members of the group were amazed at the openness of the Cuban people, willing to talk openly about their medical system.

"We asked everything on our minds," she said. "We're always free to ask any questions to anyone, including patients."

From farmers to lawyers, young school children to elderly hospital patients, Greenburg and the delegation was able to hear the voices of Cuban people and not the political party reigning over the small island. Part of the Witness for Peace mission is to learn of the embargo effects on the people and take that knowledge back home, said Greenburg.

"We have the privilege of going down here and hearing their stories," she said. "Hopefully this delegation lit a fire under those people who were on it to take action for the people we met."

Cuba is certainly not a utopia, said Greenburg, but all the health care and education services are free to anyone, including a number of American medical students studying at the Latin American School of Medicine.

Founded in 1983, Witness for Peace supports sustainable economics in Latin America by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression. In the past 25 years, the group has a nationwide base of 15,000.

Greenburg, a Guilford resident who has a private psychology practice in Brattleboro and teaches at SIT Graduate Institute, first became interested in Witness for Peace after going on a trip to Cuba in 2004. She joined the organization's board of directors three years later.

"I had heard about their great reputation and I had friends who had worked for them in the past," she added. During her college career, Greenburg was involved in political movements against the U.S. policies in Latin and South American countries.

Greenburg hopes to lead another delegation to Cuba in the early spring of 2010.