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U.S. prioritizes travel over safety

Published Jan 23, 2006 8:35 PM

When you heard about the miners trapped in West Virginia, did you think about Cuba? I did.

Twelve West Virginia workers died in the International Coal Group’s Sago mine on Jan. 2. Another young man barely survived and is still critically injured. They suffocated on carbon monoxide, leaving grieving families and neighbors.

The non-union Sago mine has a record of safety violations that is criminal. Over the past two years the Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 270 citations against the horrible conditions in the mine. The owners were fined a total of just $24,000. According to the AFL-CIO, in the past year, the mine was cited nine times for failing to enact a proper mine ventilation plan, a key to preventing fires and explosions in the mine. Those West Virginia mine safety cases are heard before Administrative Law Judges.

This is where Cuba comes in. In 2004 the price of coal was going up and the mine owners carried profits to the bank. Instead of stepping up mine inspections and filling the hearing dockets with safety cases, the U.S. government reassigned Bureau of Mine Safety Administrative Law Judges to hear cases against people who traveled to Cuba - threatening to fine ordinary people, instead of unsafe mine owners. (www.treasury.gov/press/releases/js1161.htm)

The United States is the only government that tries to stop its residents from traveling to Cuba, in violation of the U.S. constitutional right to free association and travel.

In recent weeks, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the U.S. Treasury Department, has conducted a blitz attack on hundreds of travelers to Cuba. Members of the Vencere mos (We Shall Over come) Bri gade and the Pastors for Peace Friend shipment Cara vans, who have done nothing more than travel to an island less than 90 miles away, have been issued official letters demanding information and threatening more than 200 travelers with fines totaling more than $1.5 million dollars.

Here in Michigan, the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange is threatened with a $27,000 pre-penalty notice. Two health care workers from Port Huron are currently fighting fines for delivering medicines to a convent in Cuba. Surely traveling to Cuba cannot deserve fines larger than a corporate mine owner operating an unsafe and deadly mine.

Every year hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world go to socialist Cuba. They go for vacation. They attend conferences and concerts. They visit family. They go for school—the Latin Amer ican School of Medicine provides full scholarships for young men and women to become doctors in underserved communities in their home countries. They go for medical care—in collaboration with the Bolivarian Venezuelan government, free eye operations are restoring vision for thousands of South Americans.

And we go from the United States, too. We know that if you don’t use your democratic rights, you lose them. That’s why during the 2006 summer, Pastors for Peace, Venceremos Brigade, the US/ Cuba Labor Exchange and other organizations will again exercise and defend their constitutional rights by organizing and traveling to Cuba.

But fining harmless travelers while murderous coal corporations get slapped on the wrist is only the tip of the 45-year U.S. government blockade and war against that small but independent island nation.

As mine workers’ advocate Mother Jones told us, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” That fight includes safe working conditions, ending U.S. military aggressions, a national single-payer health system, the right to a job, to live free from racism and oppression and the right to travel to Cuba, too. The time to act is now — your help and solidarity will make the changes that poor and working people need.

For more information on this summer’s travel challenges to Cuba: Pastors for Peace www.ifconews.org; Venceremos Brigade www.venceremosbrigade.org; U.S/Cuba Labor Exchange [email protected]