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By Doug Hennes and Jim Winterer
Photo by Roger Rich

HAVANA – As far as the eye could see at midnight Thursday, flames burst from hand-held torches that cascaded down the steps of the University of Havana and into the streets.

As far as the ear could hear in the early-morning hours Friday, chants came from 30,000 marchers, including members of the University of St. Thomas delegation that has been in Havana this week.

The Rev. Dennis Dease, president, joined his Havana counterpart, Dr. Juan Vela Valdes, in helping to lead the annual Marcha de Las Antorchas that commemorates the birth of Jose Marti, the father of Cuban independence.

Marti was born in 1853 in Havana, and the midnight march has been held on the eve of his birthday since 1953. Most of the marchers traditionally are native Cubans, but this year they were joined by Dease, St. Thomas baseball players and members of the faculty and staff.

The evening was dedicated to the safe return of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, the center of a custody fight in Florida. Amid shouts of “Viva Fidel,” the enthusiastic marchers stretched out over six blocks until reaching a platform outside the Marti Museum near the Melacon on the sea.

Dease, Valdes and a dozen individuals stood on a platform as the Cuban national anthem blared from a crude sound system and thousands of people waved Cuban flags. The president of the University of Havana Student Federation was the main speaker, and in his 10-minute speech he implored the United States to let young Elian come home.

“This has been quite a grand ending to our week,” Dease said after the rally. “The experience gave our students a chance to glimpse the soul of the University of Havana. This should help them understand their new friends better.”

Dease said he participated in the rally out of respect for Valdes, who invited him and the St. Thomas contingent to Cuba this month and has been a gracious host throughout the week. After the rally, Valdes gave Dease and reporters a tour of the Marti museum.

Marti is revered in the Cuba capital, with statues and memorials present throughout the city. He led the fight against Spanish domination in the 1890s and died in 1895, three years before Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders to victory in the Spanish-American War.

Medical supplies, vitamins, gifts abound
Earlier Thursday, several members of the St. Thomas group drove to Cuba’s kidney institute to deliver boxes of medical supplies.

Another group headed to one of Havana’s technical universities to deliver boxes jammed with mostly over-the-counter medicines and vitamins, soaps and all those things Minnesotans pack into shopping carts on a “Target run.” The products were gifts from an anonymous corporation and St. Thomas.

Members of the baseball team and faculty and staff members also went shopping before the trip and filled bags of supplies that will be given to members of the Cuban baseball team and faculty.

While it may seem strange to offer a new friend a bar of soap or tube of toothpaste, the gifts are deeply appreciated. Giving soap doesn’t carry a “we think you’re dirty” message; rather, it says “we know that these products are hard to come by in Cuba and are given with the best intentions.”

 

 

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Equipo Caribe vs St. Thomas, Havana, Cuba 2000