39th Venceremos Brigade

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39th Venceremos Brigade


July 14 2008, A group of 41 tired Americans walked across the International Peace Bridge connecting Canada and Buffalo, NY. These were not your everyday Niagara Falls tourists — when they arrived in Buffalo, banners, people and cheers awaited them. These Americans had just traveled to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, against US travel restrictions. This year was the Brigade’s 39th solidarity delegation to the Island, a challenge not only to U.S. travel restrictions but also to the U.S. imposed economic blockade of Cuba.

The Venceremos Brigade worked side-by-side with Cuban workers in yucca fields and in the largest publishing house in the country. However, their most important job was learning about Cuba, the effects of the blockade, and the struggle of the Cuban 5 so that we could bring what we learned back to the U.S. where information from Cuba is largely restricted. Brigadistas traveled from Havana to Santa Clara and into the mountains to a community called Jibacoa, along the way meeting with Cuban students, professionals, workers, politicians, soldiers, farmers and doctors.

Ashley Wolford, a 22 year-old Brigadista from Chicago, was surprised by the treatment of young people in Cuba. “Coming from Chicago where youth are criminalized, seeing junior highs with full security teams, police and metal detectors and everything, I found Cuba totally different. When we visited a school for children that had committed crimes, we found out that criminalizing young people is illegal in Cuba. The school even had students that had committed serious crimes, but the school had no bars on windows, no people in uniform, no high fences, no handcuffs, no metal detectors, and students went home to their families on the weekends!”

“Something that really struck me was the Fourth of July Celebration we went to,” said Benjamin Cline, from Chicago. “It is really cool that even though Cuba has been under a U.S. imposed economic embargo, yet Cubans still show solidarity with the American people by celebrating the Fourth of July, a day which marks our Independence from British rule. They celebrate our independence even though we placed an embargo on them when they struggled for their independence and won,” Ben also noted. “It was interesting that the event was a symphony. Most of our delegation had never been to a symphony before because they are not accessible in the United States, but in Cuba tickets are cheap, and working people there see ‘classical’ art like symphonies and ballets all the time.” [1]

“It’s sad that people don’t know about Cuba,” said Ronnie Almonte, first time brigadista from New York, when referencing the futility many Americans feel about the possibility of making a significant change in society, and how that Cuba being restricted may serve as a means of hiding a thriving alternative to the American system. “They [Americans] have no model on which to base a change.”

Before crossing, the brigade was met by a Canadian-Cuba solidarity group who acted as a neighborly morale booster to the soon-to-be crossing Americans. Ontario New Democratic Party provincial parliament member, Peter Kormos, even came to show his support to the brigade.

Over the years, the brigade has had the opportunity to see the changes that have taken place in Cuban society aside from addition of cell phones and Internet. “There are a lot more busses in urban areas, much more diversity in produce and the government has been replacing older appliances with new, more energy efficient ones,” explained brigade veteran Kathe Karlson, who commented on the fact that many of the public programs that she was told about on previous brigades are currently starting to bear fruit.[2]