Last summer, the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan went to Cuba with over 100 volunteers, the vast majority of them from the U.S., as did a comparable number of persons organized by the Venceremos Brigade, a Cuba solidarity group.

None of them sought a license for Cuba travel, as required by U.S. government regulations. Pastors for Peace also chose not to obtain a license for taking tons of medical and humanitarian aid to Cuba. On the agenda for both groups was defiance of U.S. policies towards Cuba in the form of civil disobedience.

Behavior like this was bound to catch the attention of the Bush administration, and in October the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sent letters to the groups asking for information about the people who went to Cuba, their activities there, and their travel arrangements.

The Venceremos Brigade sees the request for information as a possible first step in government plans to invoke penalties. The Brigade indicated through its attorney that it would provide no information to OFAC.

These actions come on the heels of tightened restrictions imposed by the Bush government on legal travel to Cuba. Cuban Americans, for example, may no longer enjoy yearly visits with relatives in Cuba. They now have to wait three years between visits, and then only after obtaining special approval.

In its letter, OFAC suggested that the Venceremos Brigade (VB) was acting as a “travel service provider,” a category by which OFAC identifies those agencies and organizations it allows to send people to Cuba legally.

According to a Nov. 13 press statement, the Brigade rejects the suggestion. “The VB is an anti-imperialist education project that works to develop friendship with the Cuban people. … The VB travels to Cuba without requesting a license, pointing out that the restrictions on travel imposed by the US government are a violation of the U.S. Constitution and of international law.”

Once in Cuba, Brigade members worked with the Cuban people renovating schools and building a rehabilitation center.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace also refused to supply information to OFAC, and in a letter signed by members of its board of directors — among them six members of the clergy — the solidarity group said its actions are determined by religious beliefs, the biblical injunction that “one must love thy neighbor.” Cuba is a neighbor, they said, and Pastors for Peace will not obey human laws that do harm to a neighbor.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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