Bush Administration Targets Hundreds of Cuba Travelers:
Members of the Venceremos Brigade and the Pastors for Peace Caravan promise to resist government harassment and to defend the right to travel!
New York [1/6/2006]-- In recent weeks, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the US Treasury Department, has conducted a blitz attack on hundreds of travelers to Cuba. Members of the Venceremos Brigade and the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravans, who have done nothing more than travel to an island less than 90 miles away, have been issued official letters demanding information and threatening more than 200 travelers with fines totaling more than $1.5 million dollars. They are determined to resist this attack and continue asserting their Constitutional right to travel.
Since the Bush Administration came into office, it has implemented a steady wave of attacks aimed at ending US citizens' ability to travel to Cuba. One blatant example is the 2004 restriction on Cuban Americans' family visits, which now can only be made once every three years, only by special written permission, and only to the Administration's definition of "immediate family members." There are no exceptions for emergencies, illness or death. All non-academic educational programs and almost all university and college programs have been eliminated. Much tighter restrictions apply to religious and humanitarian travel.
OFAC, whose job it is to track 'terrorist financing,' has spent thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars and assigned almost two dozen agents to pursue Cuba travelers - while only a handful track Osama bin Laden's bank accounts.
"The Cold War has been over for years. Cuba is not an enemy and Cuba is not a threat. It is immoral that our government is spending valuable resources to restrict the rights of its own citizens," said Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., Executive Director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.
Since 1992, Pastors for Peace has been organizing Friendshipment Caravans which have taken hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba. Thousands of US citizens have traveled with the Caravans, bringing with them hospital equipment, medical supplies, computers, bicycles, and school supplies to Cuba. In November, US Customs announced its intention to officially seize 50 boxes of computer accessories (including toner and cables) which were 'retained' from the Caravan at the Texas border in July to prevent their humanitarian delivery to Cuba. Pastors for Peace continues to demand release of the computer equipment, which is designated for visually-impaired children in Cuba.
Since 1969, the Venceremos (We Shall Overcome) Brigade has been the means through which thousands of Americans, especially young people, have traveled to Cuba. Working side by side with Cubans on agricultural and construction projects, brigadistas also travel throughout the country, meeting and exchanging with their counterparts and learning about the achievements and challenges of the Cuban Revolution. "We are committed to defending our rights to travel while seeing the country for ourselves. From the beginning we have traveled without government "permission" orlicense," said Bonnie Massey of the Venceremos Brigade.
People who travel with the Venceremos Brigade and Pastors for Peace believe that citizens in a democracy must be informed about all issues which affect their lives - including foreign policy issues - and travel is key to becoming and staying informed. Travel is a constitutional right which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court 1958. In 1984 the Supreme Court abridged those rights in cases where the Executive Branch gave priority to foreign policy concerns. But Cuba policy has been subject to pressure on successive administrations by a small but influential right-wing Cuban-American lobby, which has kept an immoral, archaic, and mean-spirited policy in place. Polls indicate that more than 70% of the US people oppose these travel restrictions, and a majority of both houses of Congress have voted to end their enforcement.
Cuba is no threat to the US, yet travel is more restricted than ever. In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., "we have the moral obligation to disobey unjust laws." Venceremos brigadistas and Pastors for Peace caravanistas will continue their commitment to stand up for the constitutional rights of US citizens to travel. Their travel challenges will continue again with a new brigade and a new caravan in the summer of 2006, and they will resist every attempt of the Administration to block their way.
IFCO/PASTORS FOR PEACE: Lucia Bruno, 212/926-5757
VENCEREMOS BRIGADE: Benjamin Ramos 212/560-4360
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