22 U.S. Citizens Travel to Cuba in Public Defiance of Travel Restrictions

For Immediate Release
July 19, 2014

Contact: Miguel Rodriguez | Malcolm Sacks | Jessica Taube
(646) 309-9137 | (646) 265-5327 | (646) 299-0260
vbrigade@gmail.com

On Sunday, July 20th , 2014, 22 U.S. citizens will defy the U.S. government’s travel restrictions by traveling to Cuba with the 45th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. Participants in the “travel challenge” will protest U.S. government policy toward Cuba by going to the sanctioned island without a license and publicly confronting U.S. Customs officials on their way back into the U.S. Among this years contingent is the 2014 NYC Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana.

Brigade members, known as brigadistas, will deliver over 1,000 pounds of material aid to the island, volunteer on civic projects including organic urban gardens and, participate in celebrations for the 61st anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks. Brigadistas will also interact with experts and ordinary citizens from various sectors of Cuban society. They will visit hospitals, factories, and important cultural and historical sites in order to learn about Cuba’s health care and educational systems and cultural and political heritage.

Returning to the U.S. on August 3rd , the Venceremos Brigade will march across the International Peace Bridge from Canada into Buffalo, New York, holding rallies/press conferences on each side of the border. In the face of loosening travel restrictions under the Obama Administration, which appear to make the travel ban and blockade less and less significant in the U.S., the Brigade asserts the importance of engaging in civil disobedience through travel challenges as the most effective means of mounting pressure on the U.S. government to change these policies and work to rectify relations between the two nations.

Since 1962, the U.S. government has restricted travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens and residents as part of its blockade of the island, only allowing travel for those licensed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Despite these restrictions and facing threats from OFAC as well as F.B.I. intimidation, the Brigade proudly travels to Cuba without government permission, sure in its stance that travel is a constitutional right, as recognized by Supreme Court Justice William Douglas in 1965: “The right to know, to converse with others, to consult with them, to observe social, physical, political, and other phenomena abroad as well as at home gives meaning and substance to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

The Pastors for Peace Caravan, an interfaith group traveling to Cuba and returning to the U.S. via Mexico, will be engaging in civil disobedience along with the Venceremos Brigade. There will also be another contingent from the US joining the Venceremos Brigade travel challenge they: will not be going to Cuba, but will stand in Solidarity with us as we march.

The Venceremos Brigade is a U.S.-based anti-imperialist educational work project that travels to Cuba annually. Since 1969 it has provided over 9000 U.S. citizens the opportunity to see Cuba for themselves. The Venceremos Brigade asserts that the travel ban is unconstitutional and that the economic embargo is inhumane, immoral, and contrary to the principle of national sovereignty. The Brigade stands in solidarity with the Cuban people and in protest of the U.S. government’s failed policies toward Cuba, calling for the lifting of the travel ban and blockade and for the immediate and unconditional release of the Cuban Five.

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.

140+ Americans returning from Cuba August 3rd in defiance of U.S. Law

For Immediate Release
July 13, 2009

Contact: Diego Iniguez-Lopez
(201) 294-0941
diniguezlopez@gmail.com

On August 3rd, over 140 members of the Venceremos Brigade will return from Cuba in an act of civil disobedience against restrictions on travel to the island. This year’s Brigade-the 40th contingent since 1969-will be exercising their constitutional right to travel while demanding rectified U.S./Cuba relations.

While the Barack Obama administration has eliminated travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans, restrictions on other U.S. citizens and residents remain, including many hoping to learn about Cuba and exchange culturally with its people. The Brigade will do just that, working side-by-side with Cubans through volunteer work and learning firsthand about Cuba; it’s hurricane relief efforts, youth development, Hip hop, environmental initiatives and struggles for women’s and LGBT equality, among other historical and cultural aspects.

Though Cuba is the only country illegal for Americans to travel to (since 1961), the Brigade’s members are proudly going there in solidarity with the Cuban people and in condemnation of a U.S. policy unpopular with Americans, Cuban-Americans and the international community.

The Brigade’s trip comes at a politically relevant time, as the Obama administration has taken steps towards dialogue with Cuba, there are currently bills proposing ending the travel ban on Cuba in both houses of Congress, and the Organization of American States (OAS)-of which the U.S. is a part of-recently decided to rectify the act of excluding Cuba 47 years ago.

Despite mounting public pressure and political momentum towards the normalization of relations, the travel ban and U.S. embargo on Cuba remain

Therefore in July, the Venceremos Brigade is once again traveling to Cuba (for the fortieth consecutive year) without requesting any license in order to push for the lifting of all travel restrictions, and a lifting of the nearly 50-year old embargo on Cuba. Though members risk fines from the U.S federal government for seeing Cuba firsthand, they act with Martin Luther King Jr.’s conviction that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

In the past, Brigade members threatened with fines have challenged government reaction. They will be joined in their civil disobedience by the U.S-Cuba Labor Exchange and the Pastors for Peace Caravan, an interfaith group returning to the U.S. via Mexico.

Brigade members are available for interviews before their departure on July 19th, 2009, and upon their return August 3rd, when they will be entering the U.S. through the International Peace Bridge in Buffalo, NY, holding demonstrations on both Canadian and U.S. sides of the border.

Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Barack Obama,

On August 3rd, 2009, over 140 of us will be returning from Cuba-without a government license-in defiance of the travel restrictions and economic embargo that our government has imposed on that nation for close to 50 years.

We are traveling to Cuba in order to denounce a failed and inhumane policy towards Cuba, and to express our solidarity with the Cuban people and their struggles. We are aware that we face repercussions for our act of civil disobedience, but are strengthened by Martin Luther King Jr.’s conviction that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

For the past half-century, the United States has pursued a policy implemented with the explicit purpose of making the Cuban people suffer to such an extent that they-out of misery and poverty-overthrow their government. The Cuban people can no longer be collateral damage for an outdated foreign policy. We reject such hostilities, and call for your administration to realize its own pledges for a more diplomatic and humane U.S. that respects the sovereignty of other nations. We strongly urge you to take meaningful steps towards ending the economic embargo and lifting all travel restrictions to Cuba for all U.S. citizens and residents.

Many of us identify with the philosophical principle that you were elected on-a platform of change-and that is our incentive towards contacting you. At this historical moment, your administration has the opportunity to start that new beginning you mentioned the U.S. was seeking. We agree and call for more engagement. .

We are students, teachers, medical personnel, autoworkers, social workers, artists, professors, lawyers and community organizers, among other occupations. We are an intergenerational group of different races, ethnicities, sexes, and sexual orientations, and are traveling from throughout the U.S. We will be doing volunteer work (in the past 40 years, this has varied from sugar cane harvests to painting neighborhood hospitals to renovating schools) and meeting with Cubans throughout the island (from rappers to hurricane relief workers to those fighting for LGBT equality to the Federation of Cuban Women); opening up engagement and dialogue among both people while exercising our constitutional right to travel.

This is what unites us: our affirmation of our constitutional right to travel, solidarity with the Cuban people, and an absolute condemnation of a foreign policy that has used the Cuban people’s suffering as a political pawn, blocking off engagement between both countries.

The time for rectifying U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba is past due.

Your administration has recently taken steps towards dialogue with Cuba. There is bipartisan support in both houses of Congress for further opening. The majority of the U.S. population-including Cuban Americans-is in favor of these measures. In addition, congressional momentum towards easing the embargo has been in line with the expansion of internet-based technologies within Cuba, as well as economic benefits for the U.S., particularly for the agricultural industry and small, minority- and women-owned businesses. Furthermore, the very constitutionality of the travel restrictions, a means of enforcing the embargo, will soon be challenged in our federal courts.

In Cuba, the highest-ranking leadership has repeatedly expressed its willingness to discuss any topic-even offering to release all individuals the U.S. considers political prisoners. In just the past few years, there have been new, developing social and cultural spaces where political critiques are being expressed-independently-by Cubans themselves. These have been accompanied by several deregulatory measures by the new President there.

Internationally, U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba is overwhelmingly denounced. From the U.N General Assembly condemning the embargo for 17 consecutive years to the Organization of American States (OAS) recently deciding to rectify the act of excluding Cuba, the international community has clearly called for a multilateral approach that includes-not isolates-Cuba.

Thus, the question is not why we should lift the embargo-with the travel restrictions as part of their enforcement-but why is it still in place? Such a justification is inconsistent with our constitutional rights, your electoral pledge for foreign relations based on respect and equality and the most decent, humanitarian sentiments of the U.S. people. Such sentiments require an opening of exchange, an end to the embargo and all other acts against Cuba, including the incarceration of the 5 Cuban patriots-sent here to cooperate with the U.S. government against terrorism-whom you can, and should free through a presidential pardon.

Therefore, we ask that you-with your authority as President-transcend the old, stalled politics of yesterday. We urge you to support lifting the travel restrictions for all U.S. citizens and residents, and take serious steps towards ending the economic embargo on Cuba. Only then can a new beginning begin, where the U.S. and Cuba lay the foundation for a relationship based on friendship and mutual respect.

Until then, we will travel to Cuba as the 40th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade, demanding a U.S. foreign policy that respects our rights and our sentiments towards the Cuban people.

Venceremos Brigade, 40th contingent

July 13, 2009

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.