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To Cuba With Love 

End Cuba Embargo NowI joined a group of 150 activists, journalists, and educators on a Codepink delegation to Cuba from February 8-15, 2015. The delegation marked the recent thawing in US-Cuba relations. It was timed for Valentine’s Day and dubbed “To Cuba With Love.” The group included activists with years of experience in peace and justice movements, including those working on environment, healthcare, and LGBTQ issues.

Among the highlights of the trip were meetings with grassroots activists at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, Afro-Cuban groups, the LGBTQ community, youth organizations, sustainable development projects, and students at the Latin American School of Medicine.

The group interviewed former National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcón, Mariela Castro Espín of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, Fernando González of the Cuban Five, Yuri Gala López from the Foreign Ministry, and Zuleika Román of the Cuban book Institute.

The delegation attended the International Book Fair in Havana where we taped a performance of One Billion Rising. The delegation culminated with a Valentine’s Day dinner and party at La Casa de la Amistad.

The delegation came in the aftermath of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba on December 17, 2014, but our Cuban counterparts made it clear that much work remains in front of us to achieve a full normalization of relations between the two countries. Specifically, as activists we need to push for these three issues:

1. Removal of Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. Indications are that Obama will move in that direction in the next month, and we need to keep pressure on him to make sure that he has the political support necessary to carry through with that commitment.

2. End the blockade. Although Obama is dismantling the blockade piecemeal through executive action, a full repeal will take congressional action. In the face of a hostile congress it will be difficult to realize this objective.

3. Return the Guantanamo base to Cuba. This century-old violation of Cuban sovereignty is not even on the radar of policy makers, and as activists we need to raise the issue.

Planning is underway to organize delegations to challenge the blockade, including its barrier to tourism travel, and to raise the issue of the return of the Guantanamo base.

The overwhelming majority of Cubans we met were very optimistic by the thawing in diplomatic relations. They said that despite the blockade Cuba has long had intimate contact with United States culture and was prepared for the “tsunami” of tourism and capitalist overtures.
Delegation members had varying opinions as to whether Obama’s move would result in more respect for Cuba’s sovereignty or whether it would lead to a new and even more vicious form of imperialism. Particularly alarming was the report from a small group that met with the US Interest Section (soon to be embassy) in Havana. A US diplomat at the Interest Section revealed that the primary objective of US policy was to privatize Cuba’s socialized economy. For example, the US does not plan to allow for the importation of Cuban government produced bio-tech medicine even though it could save lives in the United States.

In short, as solidarity activists we should celebrate the diplomatic moves as a positive advancement but we still have much educational, organizing, and lobbying work in front of us.

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