Travel groups defy Bushs Cuba policies

Cuba has survived 45 years of U.S.-inspired military incursions, terrorist attacks, internal subversion, economic blockade, biological warfare, and diplomatic isolation, but Cuban leaders say worse is yet to come.

In a May 14 interview with the Cuban magazine Bohemia, Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, explains why he takes the threat of a major U.S. military attack seriously.

Alarcon was responding to the recent report from the Bush administration’s “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba,” which lays the groundwork for increasing human suffering in Cuba. One measure involves cutting off Cubans from their family members living in the U.S. by limiting travel to once every three years. Another measure involves cutting off the flow of dollars from the U.S. so as to aggravate economic difficulties.

Causing economic hardship in Cuba has been a policy of many U.S. administrations, and is not unrelated to military threats. A 1959 State Department document, Alarcon said, revealed the first economic measures taken against the Cuban revolution was “to cause hunger and desperation.” A short time later, in April 1961, 1,500 U.S.-trained exiles invaded the island in an effort to overthrow the government.

Yet, according to Alarcon, the situation today is “the most complicated and dangerous moment for Cuba,” not excluding the missile crisis of 1962. Back then, he said, people with culture and judgment were in charge of U.S. foreign relations. They had neither stolen a presidential election, nor were tied irrevocably to devious schemers in Miami. The world was “bipolar” – not prey to a single superpower ready to unleash unilateral and pre-emptive wars. Today Cuba faces “an empire without reins or brakes,” he said.

Alarcon describes the Bush report as “a project of organizing Cuban society under North American occupation,” a plan that clearly implies military action.

Alarcon said the administration’s report includes plans for “privatization of the economy, a return to the neoliberal model, and rapid dispersal of all the property nationalized by the Revolution.”

Cuban leaders aren’t the only ones taking these new Bush administration measures seriously.

This summer, U.S.-based Cuba solidarity groups are organizing a cooperative, militant response to the belligerent, cruel, and illegal policies of the U.S. government. They plan to challenge U.S. government restrictions on travel to Cuba, restrictions that will be severely tightened under the new rules.

To take on the travel issue makes good political sense. There is wide congressional and popular support for getting rid of the travel restrictions. U.S. citizens themselves – not just Cubans – are victimized because their right to human interchange is denied, and they are deprived of the pleasure and education of spending time in Cuba.

The Venceremos Brigade, the African Awareness Association and the 15th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment all plan to challenge the travel ban during the first two weeks of July.

For 35 years, the Venceremos Brigade has pitched in with Cuban co-workers to harvest sugar and other crops, engage in construction and repair projects. Over the years, 8,000 people have gone to Cuba with the Brigade, which emphasizes diversity within the delegations and educational activities in Cuba.

The African Awareness Association’s theme is “Become a Freedom Traveler.” Participants will spend time in Eastern Cuba and in the Havana area, and will be crossing back into the U.S. in Buffalo, N.Y., on July 19, shoulder-to-shoulder with members of the Venceremos Brigade.

Trucks and buses of the 15th Friendshipment will cross into Mexico on July 6 loaded with tons of humanitarian aid for Cuban health facilities and schools. An estimated 150 Friendshipment supporters will fly to Cuba from Tampico, spending an intense 10 days of travel, sightseeing, and meetings with their Cuban counterparts.

If past years are any indication, those who go to Cuba in defiance of U.S. laws will be honored guests of the Cuban people, who respect them for visible and principled opposition to an unjust U.S. policy.

For inquiries about the travel challenges, please contact the African Awareness Association at (804) 269-7172 or e-mail: African_Awareness_Association@yahoo.com; IFCO/Pastors for Peace at (212) 926-5757 or ifco@igc.apc.org; the Venceremos Brigade at (212) 560-4360 or vbrigade@yahoo.com.

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