36th Venceremos Brigade
36th Venceremos Brigade
Fifty-three members of the 36th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade arrived in Cuba August 2005, in defiance of US law which forbids almost all travel by US citizens to Cuba. This is the third Travel Challenge organized by the Brigade, in cooperation with Pastors For Peace Friendshipment Caravan. This year the Brigade's Travel Challengers have been joined by a Women's Challenge from Seattle, Washington; and the Cesar Chavez Labor Challenge based in Detroit, Michigan. Brigade members come from six states and Washington, DC.
On Monday, August 1, 2005 the Travel Challengers will cross on foot over the International Peace Bridge from Ft. Erie Ontario, Canada into Buffalo New York. As in the past years, they will proudly proclaim their visit to Cuba in defiance of the ban, with banners and chanting. Challengers risk fines and other penalties for breaking ban, but they are united in their belief that acts of civil disobedience are necessary to bring attention to these unjust and outrageous restrictions on travel.
Brigadistas come from around the country, are of many ages, and have many reasons for participating in the Brigade. "I will challenge the US travel restrictions to Cuba because it is my constitutional right to travel and see Cuba for myself," says Liz Hernandez, a Brigadista from New York City. Mary Garber from Los Angeles says, "In challenging the travel ban we make public our objection to these ill- conceived policies and, in visiting Cuba, we receive broad firsthand exposure to what is really going on in Cuba."
The opportunity to learn about the social programs instituted by the Cuban Revolution also ranks high on the list of why Brigadistas go. "I am traveling to Cuba because I hope to experience a way of life fundamentally different that that of the United States," says Sienna Pinderhughes, a student from New York City. Brendan Williams, a teenage participant from Maine, says "I am impressed that they are doing things there, like giving health care to everyone, and I want to find out more."
Tshaka Barrows of Oakland, Calif., declared, “It’s an honor to defy such an unjust law. The sacrifice we make is small compared to the terrible damage this policy is causing to the Cuban people.
“The level of support and caring and love for the people in Cuba, not just in the government but right down to the community, is like medicine for my soul, especially coming back here to the U.S., which is such a difficult place in terms of building community.”
Ed Felton of Brooklyn, N.Y., said, “As a second-time Brigadista, I was reminded again that the core of the revolution in Cuba is that there’s a brilliant leadership in every community.”
Liz Hernandez, a Cuban-American from the Bronx, N.Y., told WW, “This was my first time going, and the Cubans were so warm, welcoming me as a lost daughter, so proud I was doing political work. I oppose the U.S. policy that tried to prevent me from seeing Cuba for myself. I am in complete solidarity with Cuba, and I feel it should be able to maintain its position as a sovereign nation.”
Referring to the Cuban Five, she said, “I oppose the U.S. unjustly arresting and imprisoning five amazing heroic men who were fighting [anti-Cuban] terrorists, doing exactly what the U.S. only says it’s doing. I will continue to travel to Cuba until this crippling blockade is lifted.”
Ignacio Meneses of the Cesar Chavez Labor Challenge of the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange, from Detroit, said, “We just have visited a country who never has made a criminal act against the United States, and at the same time we exercised our constitutional right of free movement to peacefully exchange ideas with the people of Cuba. I honestly believe that is a basic human right.”
Among those crossing the border into Buffalo were eight members of the Cesar Chavez Labor Challenge from New York, Detroit and San Jose, Calif. Five were members of the Women’s Challenge from Seattle and 53 travel challengers went with the 36th Venceremos Brigade from Maine, Massachusetts, New York, D.C., Texas, New Mexico and California.