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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Blame it on Fidel

As millions of Cubans gather today on the streets of every corner of their small nation, the war on Castro continues in the West. According to the media of North America and Europe, Fidel was the world's longest lived dictator - a scourge on human rights, an authoritarian leader who allowed no dissent from his path of communism.

Yet for 100's of millions of people across the globe, especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, he will be viewed very differently. He will be seen as a great leader, who liberated his people from a US backed dictator, who then stood up to half a century of US aggression whilst at the same time developing one of the most egalitarian regimes the world has ever seen.

What cannot be denied is that Cuba has punched well beyond its weight. In comparison to similar nations, its health care and education systems are indeed remarkable, and have benefited the lives of more than just the Cuban people. A Caribbean student who stayed with us recently got their first degree in Cuba. It was free. Completely. Including accommodation and food. And compared to the levels of teaching in the Yorkshire University she was then studying at - the Cuban model outshone by far, despite the thousands of pounds it was costing her to study in the UK.

In terms of Health, Cuba still sends out more doctors abroad than MSF, Red Cross and the World Health Organisation combined. When the Ebola virus took hold, the Cubans responded first, in greater numbers than any other country, and stayed as long as was needed to curb the threat. Watch the Michael Moore film 'Sicko' if you want to see the Cuban health care system in operation.

I met Cuban doctors in Montevideo who were working with the poorest people in the city, people living with HIV and AIDs, The doctors were remarkably dedicated, and though critical of many of the problems Cuba faced, they remained genuinely loyal to the system that had educated them and encouraged them to go out and 'heal the nations'

I constantly meet churches in the UK who are praying for the persecuted Christians in Cuba. US backed 'Human Rights Organisations' claimed that Christianity was viciously oppressed in Cuba. When I tell them that I had been ordained by the Bishop of Cuba they are shocked to hear a different story. Christianity has thrived alongside socialist Cuba. In the early days of the revolution, the Church was still embedded to those who had benefited from Batista's regime, and there was open hostility for several decades. But things improved. The only Christians who are in danger in Cuba were those that happily accepted millions of dollars from the US to help destabilise the Cuban government.

But surely, Cuba should tolerate such dissent? Surely it should allow Western style democracy to exist? I think that while that hope of democratic socialism should be striven for, we cannot ignore the context of US aggression towards Cuba. Nearly 1000 attempts on Castro's life over 5 decades. 4000 Cubans killed in terrorist attacks launched from US soil (In the US there are countless folk who roam free despite having bombed innocent people in Cuba) The economic blockade of Cuba is well known, but what is not so well known is the US backed attempts to introduce diseases such a Swine fever onto the Island to completely destabilise the economy and cause mass poverty and illness. With all this going on (and a US backed attempt to invade Cuba in 1961) it is easy to understand why it has been hard to build a Western style democracy in Cuba.

Of course there are things that have needed to be corrected. Attitudes to the LGBT community have had to change since the 80's and 90's when it was mistakenly believed that HIV and AIDs was being introduced to Cuba by the US in an attempt to destroy the economy. But attitudes to LGBT issues have had to improve worldwide, it would be hard to convince anyone that Cuba had been especially homophobic as has been suggested by some of the western media.

The film 'Blame it on Fidel' is a great movie set in the world of European socialism, see it if you can. but far from blame, we owe Fidel a debt of gratitude. The Cuban model is a counterweight to the disastrous policies that Western style Capitalism has brought the world. Castro's work to encourage socialism around the globe, the Cuban people's struggle against Apartheid in the 80's and against Western Imperialism throughout the world  - these are achievements to be amazed at and celebrated.

So, at the risk of complaints from good friends, (My book 'A Just Church' received some criticism for its segments on Cuba and Venezuela)  I say a fond farewell to Fidel. Thank you for your example and commitment to a better world. Your flaws are out weighed by your enormous achievements. May you rest in peace, and rise to witness an egalitarian regime that you could only dream of.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Remembering Romero

It is 36 years since Archbishop Oscar Romero was brutally gunned down in the small chapel at the hospital beside where he lived in the San Salvador.

Today is Maundy Thursday, and as I took part in the Eucharistic service in the Minster, I could not help but recall the pictures of his bloodied body, pictures used to make up a 'stations of the cross' event a few years ago at a previous Romero memorial event.

Why do we choose to remember this horrific event, the assassination of a religious leader in a country very few people have ever visited?

Romero was the epitome of someone who was so moved by the plight of the poor and the oppressed that he gave every aspect of his life to the pursuit of challenging those oppressions. He, like most of the church, like most of those who can afford to, could have easily avoided clashing with the brutality of living with militarism. He could of accepted protection from the very state that was killing his country folk. He could of lived in a nice house, been comfortable and not upset the status quo. In fact, that was what everyone expected of him.

Instead, he spoke out about every injustice he encountered. He refused to stay silent or accept the bribe of a safe and comfortable life. He risked his life endlessly in the 3 years of his Archbishopric, and became a true champion of the poor.

In an era increasingly polarised between rich and poor, in a society constantly brutalised, we need to remember the Romero's of this world. Those who are prepared to stand in solidarity with the persecuted, holding on to our common humanity and dignity.

Maundy Thursday holds up the image of the 'servant king' washing the feet of his followers, serving them right up to the end, to his own murder at the hands of a repressive government.  This is the ideal day to remember Romero.  

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Taize Againt The Tanks

This year sees the return of the DSEi (Defence, Security Equipment International) weapons fair down in London. Held at the Excel exhibition centre in the docklands area, it is said to be the biggest arms fair of its kind in the world.

30,000 delegates from 150 countries will view and buy the latest military equipment from the worlds arms manufacturers. Britain is now the second biggest exporter of 'defence' equipment, with over £8 billion sales in 2014, and over £3 billion in 'security' equipment.

Unfortunately, so much of this weaponry ends up in the hands of countries who have appalling human rights records, or happily use the weapons to attack other nations. Worse still, these weapons end up being the ones used in the in conflict zones such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

The arms trade is one of the root causes of our current refugee crisis. We fuel the conflicts of tomorrow right here in London.

So we tried to highlight the madness of the arms trade, by attempting to disrupt the preparation for the fair. This meant teams of people getting in front of trucks and military vehicles entering the Excel centre. Each day, different groups took turns to cause mayhem. I joined in on the 'Stop arming Israel' and the 'No faith in war' days.

It was inspirational to watch so many different groups take it in turns to block the entrance, using dancing, painting and even funeral processions.

My own contribution was to hold a service in the road using Taize style chants. Taize (an ecumenical community in France) is a place of peace and reconciliation, so it seemed to make sense to use the simple singling style as a way of pursuing Non Violent Direct Action.

As we sang in the road - a truck carrying a 'Thales Bushmaster' turned up - so we keep singing as we stepped in front of it. It was extraordinary to watch the truck forced into reversing by the power of prayer and direct action!

As I write this, there is still a week of direct action planned - so why not pop down to Excel and do your bit to disrupt the arms trade!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A gentle summer

Just a note of thanks to loyal readers who have contacted me and made sure I am alright! After a disappointing election in the UK, a brutal first Tory budget and watching the continued attacks on the left in Greece, I must admit, it's hard to be optimistic about the state of the world.

So I've taken a bit of time off from blogging while I concentrate on family and my local church. Refugee work is continually important and takes time and energy, leaving little space for creative blogging. I have a retreat in Taize coming up next week, but I hope that gives rise to a gentle summer of rest and restoration.

I'll need it, September will not only see the return of the students, but the continued struggle against the world's biggest arms fair down in London - I do hope you can join me in some of the activities planned by 'Stop the Arms Fair' and the SPEAK network.

So I hope you are taking some time out with friends and family. Look after yourself, so that we can be renewed in the struggle for a better world. Many blessings my friends.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Liberation Theology Gathering

Well, the third 'Victor Jara Liberation Library' is over, and what a treat it was! 25 delegates from across the UK gathered to share ideas and actions relating to a liberative theology.

A bit of social justice singing and worship from both the Iona and Taize communities was followed by a Bible study shared in a participative framework.

Then I presented a short piece on the issues facing Liberation Theology today (Inequalities of power and wealth, Climate Change, discrimination, war, attacks on the poor, poverty of education) before we spent a bit of time sharing our own contexts, and the groups of folk who had encouraged and enabled us.

We had an update from two members who had visited Kabul earlier in the year to meet with a Peace community in the thick of the harsh life in Afghanistan

One of the folk then shared about the work of SPEAK and the upcoming proposed direct action against the weapons fair down in London in September

at lunchtime, some of us went and lobbied the local Parliamentary candidates over the NHS as part of the 38' campaign.- there should always be a bit of 'action' a part of these conferences!

Sue Richardson then did a great bible study in a Liberation Theology format, emphasising our own experiences that we bring to the story from scripture.

We ended with Dr David Golding giving his take on why Liberationists need to take climate change seriously. Then we wound around a 'Labyrinth of Liberation' before preparing for the Ceilidh!

The Ceilidh against the Cuts was the most inspired bit of the conference. Many of the sanctuary seekers I work with were invited, so seeing Eritreans, Iraqis, Syrians, Iranians etc. getting to grips with the niceties of Scottish dancing was something to behold. It was a surprisingly moving event - and so much fun.

Strangely enough, 'Liberation Theology' needs to be 'liberating' - that means that as well as good theology, it should be fun and involve good dancing. I recall a great quote that says something like 'Its not my revolution if I can't dance to it!'

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Caroline Lucas set to become PM in secret deal


A secret deal to make Caroline Lucas Prime Minister in event of hung parliament is a logical and welcome breakthrough for British politics.

Rumours of secret talks between SNP and Labour have been denied by both parties, but investigative reporting by the Morning Star has revealed that plans are well under way to forge a SNP/Labour/Green/Plaid Cymru coalition in the event of a hung parliament on May 7th.

The mutual loathing between Ed Miliband and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been a log jam in talks by senior officials, but the secret deal that has been hammered out is seen as the only workable solution. In the event of a hung parliament, Green MP Caroline Lucas is to be announced as Prime Minister. She is seen as the only MP to command enough respect among both SNP and Labour party members of parliament.

This ground breaking decision will cement a Labour/SNP/Plaid Cymru/Green coalition that may be on the only way to shut out another Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.

The Green party are also denying that these talks have taken place, but will be delighted that Mrs Lucas could play such a role in a future government.

‘Caroline has worked so hard to gain such support, not only during 5 years in in the House of Commons, but also whilst serving the country as a Member of the European Parliament’ a senior Labour politician admitted yesterday. ‘She has spent years building credible coalitions across Westminster, and is seen as the only person who could hold a Labour/Nationalist/Green coalition together’.

A poll of Labour MP’s shows that if they cannot achieve an outright victory in the general election, Ed Miliband will not have enough support to continue as prime minister of a coalition government. He is likely to accept the role as deputy prime minister with Nicola Sturgeon becoming the Minister for Scotland. The costly Trident Nuclear programme will almost certainly be the first casualty of such a coalition.

Jim Murphy is said to be furious at news of the deal, having been left out of the loop by senior Labour Party officials. He is said to be considering crossing the floor and joining the Conservative Party if such a deal takes place after 7th May. ‘Good riddance’ claimed outspoken Labour MEP Lora Ploif, ‘He’s been stinking up the place with his Blairite politics since becoming leader in December, haemorrhaging working class support for the Scottish Labour Party.’

All this is great news for the British Left/Green community. Let’s all hope for a breath of fresh air in the British Political System this May!

Clarkson to front UKIP Party Political Broadcast


In a major coup for Nigel Farage, Jeremy Clarkson is set to be the new face of UKIP in their first Party Political Broadcast to be aired today. All of the parties have be keen to show their celebrity support, with Labour using Martin Freeman and Broadchurch star David Tennant in their first Broadcast on Thursday. The Tory Party have garnered support from big names such as Phil Collins and Pippa Middleton and are set to even use Ant and Dec in a comedy skit representing Cameron and Clegg.

The use of Clarkson is set to be a big boost for UKIP, after 1 million people signed an online petition to have him reinstated as a presenter on popular BBC show ‘Top Gear’

Jeremy Clarkson was dropped by the BBC earlier this month following a "fracas" with a Top Gear producer.

 ‘UKIP is the only party to represent decent ordinary British people’ said Clarkson, who will appear with Farage in the broadcast, chatting over a pint in a traditional British Pub. ‘I used to support the Tories, but they have allowed the country to be overrun by Bulgarians. They also allow the BBC to be run by a bunch of pansies. UKIP is the only party with a decent track record of defending our national interests’

At the request of Clarkson, the broadcast is to be aired today at 12 noon on all digital channels with the exception of the BBC. He made the deal to exclude the BBC a condition of appearing in UKIP’s publicity, reportedly saying ‘That’ll teach the bastards’

There is no news yet as to whether fellow presenters James May and Richard Hammond will also appear on the broadcast.