The Cuban people have withstood over 50 years of U.S. aggression. Their steadfast and sage leadership has helped propel the success of the Revolution. Nonetheless, solidarity is essential. For as long as the U.S. blockade against Cuba has existed, so too has solidarity from within the belly of the beast been alive.
This has helped to stay imperialism’s hand. Despite an exhaustive, systematic misinformation campaign; despite banning travel from the U.S. to Cuba; despite fearmongering and CIA and FBI intervention, the U.S. government has never succeeded in dividing the U.S. people from Cuba. The solidarity movement in this country has been constant and strong. In the early days of the Revolution, when the world was on fire from glorious national liberation movements and the emerging U.S. civil rights struggles, Fidel and Che inspired young and old in the U.S.
Later, as the Cold War waned, the legacy of the repressive McCarthy period remained in play. Groups created to organize support for Cuba were subjected to FBI/CIA infiltration. But nothing could stop the solidarity movement. Not then, not now. The early 1960s witnessed the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1960, the Fair Play with Cuba Committee was established in New York. Freedom of Information Act records show that government informants were used to “raise controversial issues and to take advantage of ideological splits” in FPCC.
Later, Cointelpro did exactly that in the Black and Latino/a liberation struggles. Still, the FPCC opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion and the blockade, and was sympathetic to Cuba even during the missile crisis, when war hysteria and antiCommunist rhetoric were at a fever pitch. The FPCC pressed on, setting up committees in over 25 U.S. cities. Among its notable supporters were Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Jean Paul Sartre and the brilliant James Baldwin.
Next came a special moment in people’s history. A Cuban delegation, in New York for United Nations business, met hostility at a midtown hotel. Rosemari Mealy writes in Fidel & Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting, “African-American Muslim leader El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz–Malcolm X welcomed … Fidel … to … Harlem’s Black-owned Hotel Theresa.
Malcolm X and a welcoming committee invited the Cubans to come to Harlem, where he ensured they would be greeted with open arms. Indeed, Harlemites by the thousands gave Castro a rousing, even magnificent welcome, keeping a round-the-clock vigil in the pouring rain … To Harlem’ s masses, unfazed by the red-baiting and anti-Cuba hysteria of the day, Castro was that bearded revolutionary who had told ‘White America to go to hell.’
They crowded the streets to see and cheer the Cuban delegation … and its revolutionary leader.” The next year, in July, noted African-American journalist William J. Worthy Jr. traveled to Cuba without State Department approval. When Worthy died in 2014, the Washington Post called him a “defiant journalist, a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper who made news — and inspired a folk song — by challenging U.S. policies.” The Post noted that Worthy “without a valid passport … traveled to Cuba in 1960 to report on the effects of Fidel Castro’s … revolution. When Mr. Worthy returned … he was convicted of illegally entering the U.S.
The conviction [was] later reversed by an appellate court.” In 1969, a coalition of young people formed the Venceremos Brigade, now the world’s oldest Cuba solidarity organization. The VB aimed to show concrete solidarity “by working side by side with Cubans and challenging U.S. policies. The first brigades participated in sugar harvests and subsequent brigades have done agricultural and construction work.” The VB has organized travel to Cuba every year since its formation, taking almost 10,000 people. It has never requested permission from the U.S., defying the ban despite risks of high fines, legal threats, loss of jobs and even imprisonment.
The U.S. solidarity movement has had an uphill climb but it has not stopped. In the early 1990s, at a difficult time for Cuba, two major events helped turn the tide. The fall of the socialist camp in Europe had ushered in the Special Period in Cuba, a period of extreme war-like conditions. Hunger and shortages resulted from the loss of favorable trade with the former Soviet Union.
Washington thought it could finally bring the Revolution to its knees. Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, further tightening the blockade in an attempt to strangle Cuba. The effort failed. Inside Cuba, the Special Period pulled the nation together to weather the storm. Inside the U.S., the solidarity movement acted.
In January 1992, over 5,000 people filled the Jacob Javits Center in New York City for a Peace for Cuba International Appeal rally. They demanded an end to Helms-Burton and all attacks on Cuba. The rally got the attention of the right-wing “gusanos,” who brought busloads from Miami as well as the attention of Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, who sent a letter to the organizers demanding it be canceled.
Javits Center officials nearly caved-in to the counter-revolutionary threats. But rally initiator, former U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark from the International Action Center, along with organizers and supporters like Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and others prevailed.
As soon as it was announced that a message from President Fidel Castro was to be read the crowd thundered with joy.
Later that same year, the Reverend Lucius Walker organized the first US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravan. This historic mobilization brought material aid to Cuba, openly defying Washington’s ban and restrictive licenses. Many caravans followed.
During one, the U.S. prevented the aid from entering Mexico. Walker and the caravanistas held a hunger strike at the border. Time Magazine wrote an article entitled, “Government and Pastors Stalemate: Government blinks”.
It was a turning point.
Gail Walker, IFCO/Pastors for Peace Executive Director, said, “…the changes we are seeing in U.S.-Cuba relations are due to the years of steadfast solidarity. I believe that the movement’s firm respect for Cuba’s sovereignty has helped pave the way for what I hope will eventually end in the full normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Still the blockade is not over and our efforts to crush the blockade once and for all are more crucial than ever.”
There are many other examples of U.S. solidarity with Cuba. Of note should be the work done by Reverend Walker, Reverend Joan Campbell and others with the National Committee to Free Elian.
When young Elian Gonzales found himself in the U.S., an international campaign began to get him back to Cuba. Thanks to the work of Cubans and supporters, little Elian made it home.
Next, the International Committee to Free the Cuban Five, along with the VB, Pastors for Peace, Puerto Rican and African American organizations, the National Network on Cuba and others, worked tirelessly for years to free the five Cuban patriots imprisoned in the U.S.