Relevance of Civil Disobedience in Solidarity with Cuba
In the past four months the U.S. has made some of the most significant changes in its policy towards Cuba since diplomatic ties were broken in 1961, two years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) and the Venceremos Brigade (VB) have organized activities in solidarity with Cuba for decades, and while we are encouraged by these recent events, we also recognize that there is still much work to be done for relations to be fully normalized and for Cuba to be respected as the sovereign nation it is.
In 1969, a coalition of students and activists formed the Venceremos ("We Shall Overcome") Brigade as a means of showing solidarity with the Cuban Revolution through work and education; the first project of its kind. Over the last four and a half decades, more than 9,000 Americans from the U.S. have traveled to Cuba with the VB - never asking for a license from the U.S. government - in order to work alongside the Cuban people and learn about their reality while challenging the U.S. blockade and ban on travel to the island.
Nearly twenty years later, in 1988, IFCO founded Pastors for Peace, a project of peaceful resistance, which organizes caravans to galvanize direct solidarity with victims of U.S. foreign policy abroad. Since 1992, IFCO has worked to bring an end to the immoral and unjust U.S. economic blockade of Cuba through nonviolent direct action. Each year, dozens of ordinary citizens travel in "Friendshipment" Caravans to Cuba, delivering tons of humanitarian aid in public defiance of the inhumane blockade and unconstitutional travel ban, while refusing to apply for or accept a government license. Through these caravans participants demonstrate an alternative foreign policy rooted in justice and mutual respect.
Since 2003, IFCO and the VB have partnered and strategically collaborated to organize public "Travel Challenges," annually engaging in civil disobedience in order to travel to and from Cuba without a license, carrying humanitarian aid, exercising our rights as U.S. citizens to travel and freely associate and defending Cuba's right as a sovereign nation to determine its own future.
On December 17, 2014, after more than 16 years of unjust incarceration, the remaining members of the Cuban Five - Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero - were released from U.S. prisons and reunited in their homeland with their families, with their comrades, and with the people of Cuba.
This victory was a testament to the power of solidarity, and was followed by a wave of proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations calling for the freedom to travel to and trade with Cuba. And on the eve of the 2015 Summit of the Americas after 33 years the U.S. Government is prepared to drop its claim that Cuba sponsors terrorism.
However, the blockade is still in place. Travel restrictions still exist. Guantánamo Bay is still illegally occupied by the U.S. military and used as a venue for imprisonment and torture. And the U.S. government still funds USAID projects aimed at undermining the Cuban government.
While this is undoubtedly a time for celebration, it is critical today more than ever that the VB, IFCO, and all friends of Cuba unite and are persistent in defending Cuba's national sovereignty and right to self-determination. Today, energized by the example of the Cuban Revolution and empowered by community activists who came before them, members of IFCO, the VB, and other international Cuba solidarity movements continue to look to Cuba as a role model. Cuba has shown us that another world is possible. In the words of the late Reverend Lucius Walker, founder of IFCO/Pastors for Peace: "We act not just in defiance of our government, but in obedience to our conscience."
Both the Venceremos Brigade and IFCO/Pastors for Peace declare together,
we will win!!