BUFFALO – The 34th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade triumphantly returned from its visit to Cuba on Aug. 4 when participants walked across the International Peace Bridge from Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, to Buffalo, N.Y., without any trouble from U.S. Immigration and Customs.

The Brigade traveled to Cuba without a U.S. Treasury Department license, openly challenging U.S. government restrictions on travel to Cuba. Under the Bush administration, harassment of travelers to Cuba, both licensed and unlicensed, has increased. It recently eliminated a category of licensed travel to Cuba, making it more difficult for U.S. citizens to travel to the island. Canada does not have any travel restrictions to Cuba.

As the brigadistas walked out of U.S. Customs they were greeted by cheering supporters. African drummers added to the festive atmosphere.

Bob Guild of New Jersey, one of the spokespersons for the group, called the travel ban “immoral and unconstitutional.” He said that U.S. citizens should be able to visit Cuba without any restrictions. The Brigade’s travel challenge shows the power of “open, collective protest,” said Guild. He also said 75 percent of the U.S. population, including a majority of Cuban Americans, want an end to the travel ban.

The Venceremos Brigade is an educational work project that has sent over 8,000 U.S. citizens to Cuba since 1969.

While in Cuba, this year’s brigadistas painted a health clinic, working with Cuban students and workers. They traveled the island and met with government officials and trade unionists.

Sugeni Pérez, a 24-year-old counselor for teens from the Bronx, N.Y., said “It’s so important to lift the travel ban so we can see Cuba for what it really is and not for what we are told it is.” What impressed her was the Cuban policy of providing rights such as food, shelter, free education and free health care for all Cuban citizens.

Elizabeth Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student from San Jose, Calif., said Cuba was “amazing,” noting the friendliness of the Cuban people and their high level of unity.

Unlicensed travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens can result in possible U.S. government penalties, chiefly fines. The Venceremos Brigade is asking people to call lawmakers to urge them to vote for bills which would end the travel restrictions: H.R. 2071 in the House and S. 950 in the Senate.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org