Some reasons why I traveled to Cuba – A Brigadista’s Retrospective (VB 43)

1.) I oppose and fully disagree with the Travel ban the United States has against Cuba

– I believe that people have the freedom to pursue travel to any place on this earth and should not be restricted, limited nor hindered by forces outside their own connections. Especially not by the government in which they live.

2.) I oppose and fully disagree with the Economic Blockade that the United States has against Cuba

– I believe the particular blockade that the United States holds against the Country of Cuba is a poor representation of how countries with an abundance of resources should behave in the international market. The blockade has unjust foundations and unreasonably blocks the progress of Cuba in a way that infringes on the rights due to any country that is independent, democratic and moving towards its goals and objectives which do not cause any threat to American life.

3.) I advocate, educate and organize of behalf of the Cuban 5 and and all other Political Prisoners

– The United States of America has a horrid record of slavery, policing, incarceration and clearly hosts a dysfunctional and problematic criminal justice system. Beyond the structural issues, there is a deep woundedness in a culture that has either been blinded or has not used its power to address practically the issues that are the root causes of this wound. The Cuban 5 and other political prisoners and their cases raise the inherent contradictions within this very real system of cause and consequence and would require a strong push from people of conscience to make a change.

4.) To listen, learn, hear, be heard and to participate in the world movements for social change and transition

– To put into practice what I believe, think and see in the hopes of making a way for myself and others. To give what I can to others and to receive from others. To recharge my beliefs and spiritual anchorings/groundings. Also, to understand what challenges and difficulties that Cuban’s are experiencing that make it a society of struggle as much as any other nation.

this is just a short list and I could add much, much more along the lines of culture, art, history, family, fun, new air to breathe, identity, thought and dream life but the points above are the most central and unified goals of the group that I traveled with and what we agree upon.

***staying internationally conscious and domestically aware.

35th Anniversary Retrospective

In 1969, a coalition of young people formed the Venceremos (We Shall Overcome) Brigade, as a means of showing solidarity with the Cuban Revolution by working side by side with Cuban workers and challenging U.S. policies towards Cuba, including the economic blockade and our government’s ban on travel to the island. The first Brigades participated in sugar harvests and subsequent Brigades have done agricultural and construction work in many parts of the island.

Now, in 2004, the VB is celebrating its 35th Anniversary. Over the last 35 years, the VB has given over 8,000 people from U.S. the opportunity for a life-changing experience. While the trip has evolved over time, the Venceremos Brigade has always kept its format of work, educational activities, and travel. In addition, we remain committed to organizing the most diverse contingents possible; Brigadistas are young and older, of many races, nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations. The oldest Cuba solidarity organization in the world, the VB has never requested permission from the U.S. government to go to Cuba – and we never will! We believe it is our right as U.S. citizens to travel free of U.S. government obstacles. We also believe that we have much to learn from Cuba and the best way to do that is to travel there and see for ourselves.

Last summer, the VB joined with the IFCO-Pastors for Peace Caravan in declaring our most public and open challenge to the travel restrictions yet. We decided to organize a large and visible Travel Challenge because of the unique political climate of the times. Bush was increasing harassment of both “licensed” and non-licensed travelers. He eliminated the second largest category of so-called legal travel – the “people to people educational exchanges – and tightened the travel categories still allowed. Yet, polls showed that over 75% of the U.S. public, and over 50% of the Cuban American community, support an end to the travel ban. We knew it was time for people of conscience to make our challenge in a powerful and public way.

Celebrations at the border crossing in Buffalo

Our Travel Challenge was extremely successful. After spending 2 weeks in Cuba (during which we painted a neighborhood health clinic and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Garrison), 80 Brigadistas and many supporters walked over the International Peace Bridge from Canada into Buffalo, New York. Customs officials were expecting us–as was a large rally of supporters who welcomed us on the U.S. side of the border. When faced with this organized political resistance, the U.S. government backed down. The Bush Administration is well aware that there is little support among the U.S. people for its policies towards Cuba. Not one Brigadista was harassed while crossing and to date no one from the last contingent has been fined or threatened by the U.S. government.

However, since our return to the U.S., the Bush administration has increased its attacks on travel to Cuba. After both Houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly against the enforcement of the travel restrictions in November, a special joint congressional committee stripped the Cuba provision from the bill and left the travel restrictions in place! For the first time in history, judges have now begun to hold hearings in order to fine people who have allegedly made “illegal” trips to Cuba ! The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, charged with the responsibility of enforcing the travel restrictions, has already scheduled many hearings and has several thousand cases pending.

In October 2003, Bush formed a new “transition commission” headed by Secretary of State Powell to study further ways to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. Bush ordered hundreds of Homeland Security agents to interrogate and harass more than 44,000 legal travelers on their way to Cuba. Several organizational religious licenses have been suspended. Criminal investigations against unnamed organizations have been ordered. Top Administration flunkies have made slanderous attacks on Cuba with no evidence whatsoever. Candidates for office in Florida speak openly of favoring an invasion of Cuba and millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to be appropriated for the subversion of the Cuban government.

 

 

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.