COMMENTARY

When President Barack Obama pledged a more diplomatic United States that respects the sovereignty of other nations, I, along with 142 other U.S. citizens and residents took him up on that claim. We did so in the form of civil disobedience against the U.S. travel restrictions and economic embargo on Cuba; returning from the socialist nation after an “illegal” trip taken to show solidarity with the Cuban people, while forming dialogue and exchange between both people.

We formed the 40th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade, an organization formed in 1969 out of the social justice movements of that era. While 40 years have passed, the Cold War logic of the embargo-implemented with the explicit purpose of deteriorating Cubans’ living conditions continues. Then-President Eisenhower’s reasoning that “if (the Cuban people) are hungry, they will throw Castro out” remains as the underlying logic and driving force of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba. Current-President Obama-whom many of us voted for-seems content with this.

This is why this summer, 143 of us of different occupations, political persuasions, regions, races, sexes, and sexual orientations united in voicing our opposition to such a failed, inhumane and inconsistent policy. While exercising our constitutional right to travel, we demanded Obama realize his own pledges for a more diplomatic and humane U.S. While recent measures opening up Cuban-American travel and remittances are significant, more needs to be done to rectify U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba. The time is past due.

The international community has unequivocally denounced U.S. attempts to isolate Cuba-the U.N. General Assembly condemning the U.S. embargo for the past 17 years is only one example. Here in the U.S., the majority of the population – including Cuban-Americans – is in support of lifting the travel ban. Bi-partisan legislation (towards that goal) in both houses of Congress is gaining momentum. New Mexican Governor Bill Richardson and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are only the most recent to call for normalized relations. In addition, the very constitutionality of the travel restrictions will soon be challenged in our federal courts. In Cuba, the top leadership has repeatedly stated they are willing to normalize relations. We have seen several deregulatory measures by the new President, Raul Castro. There have also been new, developing cultural and social spaces where political critiques are being expressed independently.

There’s also a more fundamental argument for lifting all travel restrictions and the economic embargo: we have a thing or two to learn from Cuba.

While we were in Cuba, we worked in organic farming, developed in the 90’s to address food shortages after the collapse of the Soviet Union (and not coincidentally, the tightening of the U.S. embargo). Since then, these gardens have emerged as a worldwide model for providing low-income, urban populations healthy food in a local and energy-efficient manner. We saw how local communities converted their trash-filled corners into sculptures and murals in a grassroots effort to beautify their neighborhoods. We witnessed how Cubans – instead of marginalizing youth with disabilities and behavioral problems – placed them in arts and cultural groups. We learned how a cash-strapped nation is somehow able to provide universal education, healthcare and other social services which we, in this country, are currently in a decisive battle to guarantee.

Why does our foreign policy not only prohibit us from seeing this, but actively work to destruct these developments? Such a failed, inhumane, and outdated policy is no longer acceptable. Close to half a century after the embargo’s inception, and 10 U.S. administrations later, Obama has the historical opportunity to rectify U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
This would require supporting congressional efforts to lift the travel ban, taking decisive steps towards ending the economic embargo, and yes, freeing the Cuban Five through a presidential pardon.

While the travel ban remains, the Venceremos Brigade will defy it. If the U.S. government prosecutes us, we will appeal. Throughout the process, we will continue to exercise our constitutional right to travel while showing solidarity with the Cuban people.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”. Those of us in the U.S. who desire a less imperialistic U.S. have the responsibility to work towards a foreign policy that allows for Cuba’s independent development.

Diego Iniguez-Lopez is a member of the Venceremos Brigade. He can be reached at diniguezlopez@gmail.com

 


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