Venceremos Brigade: the 34th Contingent

The 34th Anniversary Contingent of the Venceremos Brigade was organized as a Travel Challenge, along with Pastors for Peace/IFCO Caravan, as a protest to the recent increase in travel restrictions enacted by President George Bush Jr and his administration. Before the Brigade traveled to Cuba, the Bush Administration eliminated the second largest category of “licensed” travel to Cuba, affecting tens of thousands of people. Also, people that had traveled to Cuba, both licensed and unlicensed, have been subject to increased harassment and repression. As a result of all this repression, The Venceremos Brigade organized its 34th Anniversary Contingent with the intent of returning to the United States by crossing the International Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York, and openly announcing their return from Cuba to U.S. Immigration and Customs.

Painting a health clinic in Caimito

*Painting a health clinic in Caimito

While in Cuba, The Venceremos Brigade stayed at the ICAP international work camp, El Campamento Julio E. Mella, outside Havana where the Brigade assisted in the renovation of a health clinic in Caimito. While at the International work camp, the Brigade met with the members of the Pastors for Peace/IFCO Caravan and participated in several education workshops, such as Cuban Legal System and Hip Hop in Cuba. The Brigade also participated in a historic meeting with former Agents of the Cuban government that infiltrated Counter-Revolutionary organizations based in Cuba, that are supported by the American Interest Section in Cuba. The Brigade participated in a local 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Attack on the Moncada Garrison in Artemisa, a city/town in Havana Province.

The Brigade left Havana Province and traveled to Santiago de Cuba, stopping along the route in different cities to drop off material aid and to rest in local ICAP offices. The purpose of the trip to Santiago de Cuba was to participate in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Attack of the Moncada Garrison, where the attack occurred and to continue the Brigade’s education series in another city in Cuba. The Brigade’s first night in Santiago de Cuba was spent with La Brigada Juan Ruis Rivera, a solidarity Brigade from Puerto Rico that travels every year to Cuba.

The Brigade spent the first three days in Santiago de Cuba visiting several historic and cultural sites throughout the city. They visited the monument to the runaway slave, the famous Iglesia de la Caridad de Cobre, and various museums such as el Museo de La Religion Popular and El Museo del Caribe.

July 26th celebrations at the Moncada Garrison

*July 26th celebrations at the Moncada Garrison

On Saturday, July 26th, The Brigade was among thousands of people, dressed in black and red t-shirts, in the Moncada Garrison celebrating the historic attack. President Fidel Castro addressed the crowd and presented a powerful account of the attack on the garrison; President Castro also criticized the European Union for their alliance with the United States against the revolution and for their recent decision to deny International funds to Cuba.

While in Santiago de Cuba, the Brigade met with members of the Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas (Federation of Cuban Women), with scientists in the CUBASOLAR solar energy project, with veterans of the underground resistance during the Batista Dictatorship and the anti-apartheid civil war in Angola.

After five days in Santiago de Cuba, the Brigade traveled back to El Campamento Julio E. Mella in Havana to continue their renovation work. Upon their return, the Brigade continued their educational series by meeting with the families of the Cuban Five Political Prisoners, meeting with a representative of the a Cuban Union, and had a discussion with Rafael Dausa around U.S.-Cuban relations. The Brigade also visited el Museo de la Revolucion and met with one of the companeros who piloted La Granma from Mexico to Cuba, the event which marked the beginning of the successful Cuban revolution.

At the border crossing in Buffalo

*At the border crossing in Buffalo

The Brigade traveled back to Toronto, Canada from Cuba and stayed overnight in a Union Hall, what was the name of the union, and prepared for crossing over the Freedom Bridge the next morning. The Brigade was divided into four separate groups, which crossed the bridge one at a time and passed through U.S. customs unhindered. The Brigade was met by a support rally made up of various Buffalo and Canadian-based Cuba solidarity organizations and by local press. After a few hours of presswork and relaxation, the Brigade traveled back to New York City.

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