Cuba travel under the gun

The Bush administration is cracking down on what it sees as illegal travel to Cuba. A foretaste of what lay ahead was provided in the May 2004 report of the “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba” in which, among other proposed strictures, Cuban American family visiting came under the gun.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace and the Venceremos Brigade, a U.S.-based educational project, have long challenged the restrictions by defying them. Both groups announced on Jan. 12 that the U.S. Treasury Department has been requesting information from around 200 U.S. citizens who joined them on delegations to Cuba in the past two years. The Treasury action may portend individual fines of $7,500 or more.

The Bush administration recently withdrew a license to provide legal travel to Cuba from La Estrella de Cuba, one of 250 travel agencies licensed nationally and one of Florida’s largest. Every month the agency had been booking 300 to 500 passengers to Cuba. And reports are surfacing of individuals caught up in Treasury Department surveillance, medical missionaries and bicycle tourists among them. The administration in 2004 collected $1.5 million in fines from 894 people. Nevertheless, “some 40,000 U.S. citizens visited the off-limits island of Cuba last year,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Campaigns are building in support of this year’s editions of the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment caravan and the Venceremos Brigade. The position of the former is to “fight to defend what we have achieved so far. It’s important to not allow them to erode any of the ground we have gained.”

Cheryl LaBash of the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange reports from Michigan that the Bush administration reassigned administrative law judges to hear Cuba travel cases instead of reviewing 270 safety citations issued against coal mine operators, including ICG, owner of the Sago Mine where 12 workers recently died.

Rights group wants answers on Cuban Five

Amnesty International (AI) sent a letter to the U.S. State Department Jan. 11 sharply critical of the treatment received by the Cuban Five in U.S. jails. The group also noted “serious questions which have been raised about the fairness of the convictions.”

In her letter, Susan Lee, AI’s program director for the Americas, drew particular attention to the U.S. refusal to allow Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva to visit husbands Gerardo Hernández and René González in jail. That stand, she asserted, is “contrary both to standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and to states’ obligation to protect family life.” The group had written a previous letter in December 2003 calling upon the U.S. government to honor family visiting rights.

On behalf of the Cuban government, the five men were monitoring Florida-based, anti-Cuban terrorist preparations when they were arrested in 1998. They gained a victory last year when an appeals court panel, determined that their Miami trial was biased and went on to nullify their convictions. The case is now before a full appeals court, with oral hearings scheduled for Feb. 14.

In questioning the fairness of the prisoners’ trial, the AI letter cited the report issued in May 2005 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The opinion there was that “the five had been arbitrarily deprived of liberty based on failure to guarantee the right to a fair trial.”