Groups mount challenge to U.S. travel ban

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ninety-plus members of the Venceremos Brigade, the African Awareness Association, and the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange triumphantly returned July 19 from Cuba to U.S. soil here in defiance of the Bush administration’s recent tightening of the U.S. travel ban to the socialist island.

Almost simultaneously – 2,000 miles to the southwest – about 100 members of the Pastors for Peace Friendship caravan crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at Hidalgo, Texas, after having delivered over 120 tons of medical and educational supplies to the Cuban people, again in defiance of Bush administration policies.

All of the groups refused to apply for a license to travel to Cuba. Taken together, the groups mounted one of the largest organized challenges of the travel ban to date.

On the northern border, the Cuba travelers and some Canadian supporters walked across the mile-long International Peace Bridge to the U.S. Customs office here, chanting “We will break the travel ban!”

They were greeted by cheering supporters on the U.S. side.

The night before, the “brigadistas” had flown from Cuba to Toronto, where they were hosted by the Toronto-area Steelworkers Council. Canada has no travel restrictions to Cuba.

The Venceremos Brigade is an educational work project that has sent brigades to Cuba every year since 1969. This year’s members range in age from 16 to 73, come from all over the U.S. and are of many racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The brigadistas spent two weeks in Cuba working alongside Cubans renovating a school and a health clinic.

All the brigadistas spoke of the warmth, openness and honesty of the Cuban people. Donna Hernández, a researcher on racial and social justice from New York City, commented, “In Cuba, everybody has access to education and health care. No one is homeless or dying of hunger.”

Sobukwe Shukura, from Atlanta, co-chair of the National Network on Cuba and part of the African Awareness Association delegation, said, “Anytime a country with such meager resources, such as Cuba, can spend so much on education and health care, it shows that the government is interested in people first and foremost. Development in Cuba means helping humans. Development in the U.S. means building prisons and expensive housing.”

Samuel Kruger, a student from San Francisco, said the trip to Cuba showed him that “another world is possible.”

One of the Canadians on the scene was Ron Boyer, a retired member of Local 199 of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and chair of the Peace and Disarmament Committee of the International Department of the CAW. He said the CAW has “long supported free travel to Cuba so people can get their own impressions of life in Cuba and make their own decisions.”

At the southern border, the Pastors for Peace delegation was delayed at the Hidalgo International Bridge by more than 100 Homeland Security, Treasury, Immigration, and Customs officials, who searched the travelers’ luggage and confiscated assorted handicrafts and gifts, including maracas, a book of Cuban poetry, and plastic teddy bear jars of Cuban honey.

The Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, denounced the excessive number of agents as an immoral waste of the country’s resources deployed against peaceful citizens exercising their constitutional right to travel.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.click here for Spanish text