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CUBA IN NEED OF MEDICINE, MINISTER SAYS BUFFALO VISITOR DESCRIBES IMPACT OF U.S. EMBARGO

It is the practice of medicine, not religion, that faces the greatest jeopardy in Cuba under the regime of Fidel Castro, a visiting Baptist minister said Friday.

The Rev. Estela Hernandez Marquez, co-pastor of William Cary Baptist Church in Vedado, Cuba, said Castro allows churches of all denominations to operate freely and without interference. As a result, she said, small churches are springing up in villages all over the island nation.

"There are no restrictions on religion -- none," she said.

However, medicine is an entirely different situation because of the long-standing trade embargo imposed by the United States.

The embargo is responsible for an acute shortage of medicine, medical supplies and equipment, and that situation is not likely to improve until the embargo is lifted, Mrs. Marquez indicated.

"The doctors and hospitals are there. The resources are what they need," she said.

Mrs. Marquez is one of four Protestant clergy members from Cuba visiting the United States at the invitation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention headed by the Rev. Dr. Bennett W. Smith, pastor of St. John Baptist Church.

Dr. Smith, who has visited her church in Cuba, said he is trying to set up meetings for them with members of Congress and representatives of the Clinton administration to lobby for an end to the embargo.

Speaking through an interpreter during a luncheon at the Buffalo Area Council of Churches Building, Mrs. Marquez said some essential medical items that were once available in Cuba no longer are because of international business ventures.

As an example, she said, heart pacemakers that were formerly purchased from a European firm that traded with Cuba are no longer available because an American-owned company has acquired the business and is not permitted to sell pacemakers to customers in Cuba.

The continued embargo by the United States "does not make any sense to the people of Cuba," she said. "There is nothing the Cuban people can do" about it.

In addition to medical supplies, Mrs. Marquez said, there is a serious shortage of clothing, milk and school supplies and, to a lesser extent, food.

Dr. Smith asked all attending the luncheon to write Congress and the Clinton administration to request an end to the embargo.

Mrs. Marquez will speak at 2 p.m. today in Hispanics United, 215 Virginia St.

She also will preach during the 11 a.m. service Sunday in St. John Baptist Church, 184 Goodell St.

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