36th Venceremos Brigade Arrives in Cuba in Defiance of Bush Travel Ban; Will Challenge Travel Restrictions at Border Crossing August 1, 2005

Fifty-three members of the 36th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade arrived in Cuba today, 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, 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.

Travel Challengers oppose the US laws that impinge on citizens' freedom to travel to Cuba. Although all major US and international human rights, civil liberties, academic, religious and humanitarian organization support the right to travel, the Bush Administration has continued to prohibit most travel and last year even tightened the restrictions to eliminate most remaining categories of so-called legal travel. He eliminated "people-to-people" educational exchanges, most university and college travel, and callously prohibits Cuban Americans from visiting their relatives in Cuba more than once every three years with special permission. There are no exceptions allowed even for emergencies such as the recent hurricane which struck Cuba. Even "family values" are prohibited under the Bush travel ban!

Since 1969, thousands of Americans have traveled with the Venceremos Brigade to see the Cuban Revolution for themselves. Brigade members participate in work projects for part of their trip and also travel inside Cuba. This year the Brigade will help with a renovation project near Havana. When they are not working, they will be meeting with Cuban organization such as the Federation of Cuban Women and youth and student groups, traveling to other parts of the island, and enjoying time in Havana City. The purposes of the trip are to work side by side with Cuban workers as an __expression of friendship and solidarity; to learn about the reality of life in Cuba; and to make a strong statement in opposition to US policies towards Cuba, especially the travel restrictions.

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."

This is the 36th consecutive year that the Venceremos Brigade has traveled to Cuba without asking for permission or a license to travel. If the US government attempts to impose any fines or other penalties on the members of the group, the Brigade intends to fight legal and political battles until all restrictions on travel to Cuba are lifted.



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