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