The Venceremos Brigade (VB) is an anti-imperialist project of political education and voluntary labor in solidarity with Cuba. We are an intergenerational, multi-racial, multi-cultural, gender-expansive/-inclusive collective of volunteers committed to changing US policy toward Cuba and strengthening the relationships between the Cuban Revolution and movements for justice in the US.
1. End the US blockade of Cuba, all US-imposed travel restrictions, and all regime change programs
2. End the illegal US military occupation of Guantánamo Bay
3. Strengthen movements for justice in the US through exchange and collaboration with Cuba
Points of Unity:
1. We believe in Cuba’s right to self-determination. We demand an immediate end to the US blockade, the illegal US military occupation of Guantánamo Bay, and all US programs aimed at regime change in Cuba
2. We believe in the constitutional right of US citizens to travel, move, and freely associate. We demand an immediate end to all US-imposed restrictions on travel to and from Cuba, and we commit to civil disobedience in protest of these policies. At the same time, we recognize the privilege conferred by US citizenship. We believe in the human right of all people worldwide to move freely, and we reject all attacks by the US government on migrants inside and outside our borders.
3. We believe in internationalist struggle and solidarity. We understand that the imperialist policies of the US government which constrain Cuban development and seek to overthrow socialism in Cuba are the foreign arms of a system which at home dehumanizes, criminalizes, exploits, and punishes with impunity masses of oppressed people. We believe that to win, our struggles must be linked. We work to develop these critical connections by laboring together with Cuban workers, delivering material resources to the Cuban people, exchanging with diverse members of Cuban society, and educating our communities in the US about the reality we see/experience in Cuba.
4. We believe in building equity and justice in the struggle against capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism. We commit to disrupting patterns of systemic oppression in ourselves and our movement communities using an intersectional analysis of oppression. We aspire to create the world we want to live in and work to build a community of brigadistas from diverse backgrounds/issue areas who can practice revolutionary values of collectivity, equity, and transformation. We are interconnected with movements for justice that center the leadership of black and indigenous people, people of color, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming peoples, and poor/working class communities.
5. We believe that people are not disposable. We commit to practices of community accountability, transformative justice, and equitable labor.
In 1969, a coalition of young people formed the Venceremos (“We Shall Overcome”) Brigade in an act of solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, by working side by side with Cuban workers and challenging US policies towards Cuba, including the economic blockade and our government’s ban on travel to the island.
The people who came together to initiate this project represented a broad cross-section of the radical movements of the era: they were members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Communist Party, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and other organizations on the frontlines of the struggles for socialism and against racism, sexism, and US imperialism and war. The first Brigades, comprised of as many as 700 “brigadistas”, traveled to Cuba via converted cattle ship and participated in sugar harvests across the island; subsequent Brigades, traveling by more modern means, have continued this legacy in agricultural, construction, and light manufacturing work: whatever has been needed. In the last 49 years, approximately 10,000 people from the US have traveled to Cuba with the VB, including elected officials, labor leaders, artists and entertainers, academics, activists, and movement leaders, among them the late Yuri Kochiyama, who described the experience in 1989 as a “golden opportunity to work, study, and learn about global liberation struggles and socialism in Cuba.”
Over the years, much has changed in Cuba and in the United States, in the relationship between our governments and peoples, and in the movements of the left worldwide. The Brigade itself has changed, and adapted, in line with the evolution of these other forces. Today, the trip lasts weeks, not months, and it normally culminates in a public act of civil disobedience (the “travel challenge”) rather than a clandestine border crossing; the Brigade tends to be smaller, usually a group of less than 50, instead of hundreds; there is no longer a National Committee, but a loose structure of distributed leadership across a collective of volunteer organizers and activists; and the leadership and membership have shifted, becoming more black and brown, more femme, more queer, and doing more to explicitly confront the manifestations of racism and cisheterosexism that arise in the experience of the Brigade.
The structure of the Brigade has shifted and the size and capacity have waned; however, the significance of this project for Cuba and for the US movement has remained constant. The Venceremos Brigade still manifests friendship and solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolutionary process through voluntary work and educational exchange. The Brigade still challenges the blockade and other attempts to isolate Cuba by building liberated relationships between our peoples. And the Brigade still represents a unique opportunity and context for people in the movement to practice being in revolutionary community and to assess our ability to do so: in the words of early VB leaders writing in 1971’s Venceremos Brigade, “a chance to come together in an ‘ordinary’ revolutionary situation and see if it is possible for [US] American radicals…to live and work hard together in a structured, disciplined, collective way.”
The impact of this project extends beyond individual transformation to victories in the spheres of public opinion, policy, and enforcement. In 2004, one year after the VB partnered with Pastors for Peace to enact the first public travel challenge, the two groups’ return from Cuba garnered unprecedented media coverage, including articles in more than 300 newspapers and dozens of TV and radio stations. By 2007, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control reported that attempts to strictly enforce the travel restrictions against Pastors for Peace and the VB had resulted in “a public relations and enforcement dilemma” and all but stopped pursuing cases against unlicensed travelers to Cuba. Finally, in late 2014, the US government conceded the failure of the blockade and initiated a process of rapprochement with Cuba, beginning with the liberation of the Cuban 5 political prisoners, a momentous victory made possible by solidarity. But the struggle is not yet won.
2019 represents the 50th anniversary of the Venceremos Brigade. To commemorate this milestone, the VB is organizing for what is projected to be the largest contingent in recent history. In the context of growing fascist and white supremacist movements in the United States and across the world, with mounting attacks on the civil and human rights of marginalized identities/communities both within and outside of our borders (including turning back the clock on Cuba policy), this work takes on greater political significance. As reaction to progress intensifies, so must resistance, to defend past victories and make space to continue pushing forward. VB-50 will be this space for hundreds of activists, movement leaders, and ordinary working people to connect with one another in powerful protest, and to explore answers to the problems we face in a society that is in its 60th year of socialist revolution.