By Leslie Cagan
Stepped-up US pressure on Cuba and the increasing desperation of the island nation's economic situation are prompting a surge in solidarity organising around the US.
New groups are forming specifically to work for an end to the Cold War against Cuba, and long-standing peace and justice organisations are now including Cuba in their work. A new directory put together by the Venceremos Brigade and the Cuba Information Project will include more than 70 national and local groups doing Cuba organising.
According to Rosemary Mealy of the National Venceremos Brigade, "This listing represents the fact that so many activists see the urgency of the situation and are willing to take action. Perhaps for the first time in decades, we are seeing the development of a national movement on Cuba."
An example of the increased activism was New York City rally on January 25. Initiated by former attorney general Ramsey Clark, the event garnered the support of prominent figures, from singer Harry Belafonte to Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton to actor Margot Kidder.
Cuba is hard hit by the combined impact of the collapse of the socialist camp and the Soviet Union and the 30-year economic embargo by the United States. Trade agreements with eastern European countries have ended, and the break-up of the Soviet Union has led to severe cuts in trade and other financial agreements with the former Soviet republics.
There are several bills in various stages of the congressional process that would tighten the embargo even further.
"We don't want our representatives in Washington taking action that will bring greater difficulties to the Cuban people", says Al Marder of the Connecticut Coalition on Cuba. "Just the opposite is true. We want to see the normalising of relations between our two countries."
Petitions, postcard campaigns, lobbying and a national phone-in day are all pieces of the congressional work. Several petitions to Congress and/or the president are circulating, and plans are under way for a coordinated turn-in date sometime in the first half of March.
The Antonio Maceo Brigade in Miami, which represents Cuban-Americans supportive of the revolution, is circulating one such petition. The Brigade's Andres Gomez says, "We are finding many, many people in the Cuban-American community who want to see the easing of tensions between the US and Canada".
"Our petition", adds Gomez, "which focusses on the need to lift travel restrictions and allow the sending of medicine and food, has had an excellent response so far."
Many organisers involved in foreign policy work have long understood the importance of Cuba. Whether the focus was on Central America, the Caribbean, southern Africa, the non-aligned movement or the debt rld, Cuba has often played a positive and creative role.
Local groups are finding that educational events are a critical part of their program of work, raising awareness of Washington's 30 years of hostility toward Cuba. That record includes, in addition to the embargo: severe limitations on the rights of US citizens to travel to the island, a cut-off of diplomatic relations, maintenance of a naval base on Cuban soil at Guantánamo Bay and direct military attacks including everything form the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro.
One new development is the effort to send medical supplies to Cuba. The US-Cuba Medical Project is seeking a licence from the Commerce Department that will allow it to ship medicines directly to Cuba, something now forbidden under the embargo.
Project coordinator Gloria Weinberg explains, "The embargo has been a major factor in creating the shortages of medicines and medical supplies in Cuba today. We are seeking a humanitarian licence which would allow us to ship directly to Cuba."
[From the US Guardian.]