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Solidarity movement asserts right to visit Cuba

Published Mar 16, 2005 2:52 PM

Cuba solidarity activists who have been at the forefront of defying the U.S. travel ban are now aiming to ratchet up the struggle against those decades-long restrictions.

On March 5 in New York City over 120 people took part in a Cuba Travel Conference organized by IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Venceremos Brigade and Center for Cuban Studies. It was endorsed by several other organizations.

Rev. Lucius Walker, front right,
challenges travel ban on one of
many trips to Cuba.

Not only Cuba-solidarity activists but all U.S. residents face a new period with regard to travel to Cuba. The conference urged the progressive movement to consider intensifying the campaign to defy the ban.

In the last two years, the Bush administration has carried out several ominous measures that threaten Cuba and curtail U.S. residents’ civil rights.

The U.S. travel ban on Cuba is nothing new. But neither is the struggle to defy that ban. Bob Guild, director of Marazul Tours, explained that travel to Cuba is not a privilege but a right.

In 1958, in the case Kent v. Dulles, freedom to travel anywhere was established as a Fifth Amendment guarantee. And under the Helsinki agreements of 1975, the U.S. agreed to “commit to the free flow of people and ideas.”

But when Cuban revolutionaries took destiny in their own hands on Jan. 1, 1959, Cuba forever earned the ire of U.S. imperialism. Travel to Cuba from then on became a very political issue.

Since 1961, both Democratic and Republican administrations—with a brief exception under the Carter administration, which lifted controls in 1977—have done everything in their power to prevent U.S. residents from traveling to Cuba.

Beginning in 1961, the U.S. restricted travel to Cuba via passport controls. An African American journalist, William Worthy, challenged the passport controls, much as Paul Robeson did regarding his personal travel ban. Worthy won his fight against the government in 1964.

The government then restricted travel to Cuba via currency controls under the regulations of the illegal 1963 blockade against Cuba. The blockade against Cuba is the longest such policy in U.S. history.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas stated in 1964: “Freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society.” Yet since 1963 the U.S. has tried to prevent the people of this country from traveling to Cuba.

But not a single year since the triumph of the revolution goes by that thousands of people travel to revolutionary Cuba in defiance of the travel ban.

In 1962 student and progressive activists began to defy the ban. Starting in 1969, thousands went to cut sugar cane or participate in construction brigades.

Not even U.S.-sponsored terrorist attacks could prevent travel to Cuba. In 1973 the Center for Cuban Studies, for example, was bombed for organizing travel to Cuba. The Local 1199 hall was bombed, injuring a union worker, after the union hosted the ExpoCuba exhibition. Nonetheless, for over thirty years Local 1199 has warmly and enthusiastically welcomed Cuba events.

Travel agents have been assassinated in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico for arranging travel to Cuba, Guild detailed. In 1976, throughout Latin America, Cubana Airline offices were bombed.

But none of these efforts—-from passport restrictions to terrorist attacks—-have stopped people from the U.S. from traveling to Cuba.

Sandra Levinson, director of the Center for Cuban Studies, stated at the conference, “We need to take back the right to what we have always done.”

U.S. imperialism desperate

In 2004 the Bush administration carried out measures against Cuba that represent a gathering storm against the island.

Ominous declarations from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and United Nations Ambassador John Bolton threaten “regime change” in Cuba. The State Department continues to place Cuba on the list of terrorist nations, stating that Cuba poses a security threat to the U.S.

The measures also target Cuban Americans. Travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans was restricted to one trip every three years. The family was re-defined and the Bush administration said aunts or close friends no longer had the right to visit Cuba. This was a slap to Cuban Americans whose concept of family is very different than mainstream culture in the U.S.

Under the “people to people” exchange expanded by President Bill Clinton in 1999, as many as 100,000 U.S. citizens were allowed to visit Cuba legally. Trips were organized by a broad array of groups—- from the American Museum of Natural History to the Stanford Alumni to university Latin American studies departments.

Some analysts described this “people to people” policy as Track II: try to overturn the Cuban Revolution from the inside, with waves of North Americans who could possibly create an unstable situation inside the country. These efforts had some results.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana was able to galvanize a group of counter-revolutionary Cubans who were enticed with money and other ploys. The Cuban government was forced to check these counter-revolutionary efforts by arresting 75 right-wingers in 2003.

But for every North American who might have prodded counter-revolutionary behavior, many others became loyal defenders of the Cuban Revolution. Furthermore, it forced many to ponder: why is life in the U.S. so very different?

U.S. imperialism’s Track II approach—subversion by encouraging contact—clearly was not working.

Track I is the approach to try to sabotage the revolution from the outside, with external hostile acts such as the blockade and terrorism.

The Bush administration has severely slashed licensed trips to Cuba. Now fewer educational institutions or faith-based groups can get licenses to travel.

What is it about Cuba?

From the very beginning of the revolution, Cuba attracted the attention and solidarity of revolutionary and progressive people around the world. Something about Cuba created a powerful magnet that drew people to it despite the best efforts of U.S. imperialism.

That something was the revolutionary socialist character of Cuba. Many people, once they travel to Cuba, will do everything in their power to return.

They feel that way because Cuba represents revolutionary hope. Cuba represents the aspirations of billions. It especially represents the aspirations of the oppres sed that yearn to break free of the chokehold of oppression that imperialism has imposed on so many.

In Cuba, one can walk the streets and feel solidarity, not alienation, free of fear from racist killer police or the violence that marks life under capitalism. For those who fall ill, health care is totally free. They don’t have to worry about having “insurance.”

Cuba shows that a society diametrically opposed to capitalism and imperialism can be built. A popular chant at anti-war demonstrations says it well: “Cuba sends doctors, Bush sends bombs.”

Time to pay Cuba back

The Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, posed a challenge not only those present at the conference but to everyone who is concerned with justice.

“Nothing has been gained without a struggle,” Walker declared. Things would be so different today, he stated, if Rosa Parks had continued to sit in the back of the bus.

“What if Fannie Lou Hamer had not gotten tired of being tired?” he asked. “What about the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King or what if SNCC had not decided to take to the streets to use creative means to challenge Jim Crow?”

Walker clarified that we the movement is in a similar position today with regards to U.S. policy towards Cuba.

“If people refuse to obey the law, it cannot be enforced,” he said. On the table is the challenge to travel to Cuba without licenses, and to do it in large numbers, in order to break the ban on travel to Cuba.

This summer progressives, anti-war and student activists, labor, youths and everyone are urged to participate in travel challenges to Cuba. You can organize your own travel challenge. Or people can sign onto the travel challenges already being organized by good friends of Cuba such as Pastors for Peace and the Venceremos Brigade.

To get information on these trips, visit www.ifconews.org or www.venceremos. org. Readers can also call the International Action Center at (212) 633-6646. The Pastors for Peace trip will take place from July 5 to Aug. 1, and the VB from July 21 to Aug. 1.

Walker concluded: “We have the power to make change if we care to use this power. If we use it the way the civil rights movement used it to challenge Jim Crow and racism, we can change things. Frederick Douglass said without struggle there is no progress.”

Now is the time to break the ban on travel to Cuba.