Commonality beats contrast for Cuban sister city

By Jamie Luck, Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday May 22, 2002

Berkeley’s urbanity, Palma Soriano’s agriculture, and thousands of miles may serve to separate these two cities, but as of last week they have joined an increasing sisterhood despite the estrangement. 

The relationship became official Tuesday, May 14 when the Berkeley City Council passed the recommendation from the Peace and Justice Commission to make Palma Soriano a sister city — intended to add weight to a national grassroots movement to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations and striking a symbolic blow against the U.S.’s long-term policy of isolating the impoverished island nation. 

While the designation is symbolic for the city, the relationship will be cultivated by the sponsor group. 

The recommendation is sponsored by the local chapter of the U.S.-Cuba Sister City’s Association and has noted Palma Soriano for its similarities to Berkeley. Much like Berkeley, Palma Soriana is notable for its diversity, music and medical research. 

“While some think of the designation of sister cities as one-sided due to the huge resources of the U.S., we have much to learn through educational and cultural exchange,” said Rebecca Davis, chairperson of the sponsor group. “They have so much to teach us because of their huge strides in education, health care and the preservation of culture.” 

Davis says Palma Soriano is the birthplace of Charanga music and Berkeley boasts local performers of this orchestral-salsa. It is also a city with practitioners of traditional medicine, consequently it is a strong resource for herbal-medicine research.  

The group’s first project will be to work with Cubans on the reforestation of Cauto River in the Soriano region, and expects participation by Berkeley’s Ecology Center. Davis also hopes to start a pen-pal and eventual exchange between Cuban and Berkeley students. 

Berkeley is the third East Bay city to establish such a relationship with cities in Cuba’s Santiago province. Oakland sistered with the capital, Santiago de Cuba, in 2000 shortly after Richmond joined with the city of Regla. 

“There is a huge push right now among American cities to sister with Cuba and get beyond the embargo on a person-to-person level,” Davis says. “The embargo makes it nearly impossible to get aid through, but we hope to contribute humanitarian aid such as medicine, books, and an exchange of knowledge.” 

Other Californian cities, such as Santa Barbara and West Hollywood, are currently are currently seeking sisters in the Santiago province through the U.S.-Cuba Sister Cities’ Association. A spokesperson for the group says their ultimate goal in California is to make it a sister-state with Santiago province. Pennsylvania became the first sister state when it bonded with the Matanza province in March of 2001, through a unanimous vote by state legislature. 


Contact reporter: jamie@berkeleydailyplanet.net