Caravan to Cuba defies new U.S. restrictions

MILWAUKEE – Activists held a day-long series of events here for the 15th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba. Since 1992, the caravan has challenged the U.S. embargo by sending busloads of aid to the Cuban people (80 tons last year).

Skip Bailey, a longtime Pastors for Peace volunteer who has made 20 trips to Cuba, was joined by Eugene Godfried, a Radio Havana personality and Caribbean scholar, at an afternoon discussion at the Milwaukee Area Technical College on what African Americans can learn from the Cuban experience. They also spoke at the Central United Methodist Church, which hosts the caravan reception every year, and has a sister church in Havana. Its parishioners include the “Methodist Three,” who are still fighting charges of having made an illegal trip to the Havana church in 1999. One of the three, Bill Ferguson, a burly African American Korean War veteran with a distinctive white handlebar mustache, said over enchiladas that he goes to Cuba “sometimes three times a year” and often returns with video to dispel U.S. propaganda about conditions there. He said the Cubans inspired him by “how they believe in one another and working together.”

He said he goes, in part, to actively resist our government’s embargo. He refused to settle his case by paying a lower fine to the government because “if you pay, you went for nothing. You believe in nothing.” At this, the pastor of the church, Rev. Earl Kammerud, replied, “You’ve got the Gospel right there.”

In the audience was Rep. Gwendolynne Moore, a state representative who is running to become Wisconsin’s first African American congresswoman. Moore said that 40 years “is enough. We ought to end the oppressive embargo on Cuba.”

Nevertheless, on May 1, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, appointed by George Bush to plan regime change there, submitted its report calling for massively tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba. Those restrictions went into effect June 30. Among the changes is the virtual elimination of “family” visits by Cuban Americans, currently the bulk of legal U.S. travel to Cuba, allowing only brief trips to visit immediate family once every three years by special permission. The limits on money sent to Cuba are also being lowered by 90 percent. The licensed import limit is to be reduced from $100 to zero, and most educational travel remaining after last year’s changes will be stopped.

According to Arthur Heitzer, chair of the National Lawyers Guild Subcommittee on Cuba, the changes will essentially prohibit travel, whereas the government had “held until the last couple of weeks that what it was really trying to do was stop people from spending money in Cuba.”

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