The Latin America Working Group joins thousands of friends of Rev. Lucius Walker, here and abroad, in expressing our great sense of loss at the death of Rev. Walker – and our tremendous admiration for his life. A mentor to many, and friend to more, and a tireless worker for justice and peace, Lucius was and remains a model of commitment, dedication, and faith that lives in actions. He inspired, challenged, guided, and led. Through his leadership of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and through his personal sacrifice, he made people aware and added to the throngs of U.S. citizens who work to end the unjust embargo on Cuba and the Cuban people. Cuba was not the only country to benefit from his humanitarianism, but that is where we at LAWG intersected with his charisma and his example. LAWG sends our sincerest sympathies to the family, friends, and co-workers of Rev. Walker. May he rest in peace.
Today, August 25, three key congresspersons sent a letter to President Obama lauding the rumors (that we believe are substantiated) that his administration is on the brink of an announcement easing the ban on travel to Cuba – which is within the executive purview of the President (both President Clinton and President Bush took advantage of the authority of the executive to revise and reinterpret the regulations governing travel to Cuba by limited categories of U.S. citizens).
On Thursday, July 22nd, Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor became
the latest House member and the first from Florida’s congressional
delegation to join the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 874). The
act, introduced in the 111th Congress by Reps. Delahunt (D-MA) and
Flake (R-AZ), aims to restore the right of each and every U.S. citizen
to travel to Cuba, a policy shift endorsed recently by Cuba’s most
prominent opposition figures and 64 percent of Cuban Americans.
After a momentous week in the nation’s capital, advocates of lifting
restrictions on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba have reason to celebrate.
On Wednesday, June 30, the House Committee on Agriculture held a
mark-up session of H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export
Enhancement Act. While out-of-touch hardliners on the committee tried
to amend and motion Ag Committee Chairman Peterson and Congressman
Jerry Moran’s bill to death, it ultimately received a favorable 25 to
20 vote, putting Congress on the verge of voting on ending the travel
ban, rather than simply shutting down its checking account, for the
first time in history.
On Wednesday, June 30, the House Agriculture Committee votes on H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which restores U.S. citizens' right to travel to Cuba, creates jobs in the U.S., and puts food on Cubans' tables. What happens Wednesday will determine if this landmark legislation sees the light of day on the House floor this summer or dies in committee. The LAWG Cuba Team will be on the Hill (in 1300 Longworth) for the vote on the bill, championed by Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota (picture right), at 2pm EST. You can follow our "live-tweets" via Twitter or tune in online through the Agriculture Committee's website. Live video coverage can be found here once the "mark-up" begins.
Many in the United States Congress continue to hem and haw when it comes to repealing the unjust ban on U.S. citizens' travel to Cuba, but the head-honchos of Cuban civil society know where they stand -- and, presumably tired of the hardliners invoking their name in opposition to any change to the status quo, they've decided to set the record straight. In a letter made public on June 9th, 74 Cubans urged members of Congress to vote in favor of H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, legislation currently being considered by the House Committee on Agriculture that would restore the right of each and every U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, without getting a permission slip from Uncle Sam, and ease the sale of U.S. food to the island.
About two weeks ago there was an explosion aboard BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig, tragically killing at least 11 rig-workers and eventually triggering a pipe-break that's now spewing an estimated 5,000 barrels into the Gulf of Mexico daily. As the oil slick has spread from its epicenter 50 or so miles off the coast of Louisiana to the Gulf state's shores, so have concerns that the disaster could severely harm the livelihoods of individuals--fishermen, for instance--and industries who depend on the vibrant, wildlife-rich ecosystem.
Speaking recently before a university audience in Kentucky, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared her thoughts about the future of U.S.-Cuban relations. She touched on many headline-grabbing issues, but her comment that it's her “personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would then lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years" is what got Cuba's, and the international media's, attention.
On Monday, April 5th, two Cuban medical students spoke about
contemporary Cuba in an open forum at American University in
Washington, DC. The students, Yenaivis Fuentes Ascencio and Aníbal
Ramos Socarrás*, are the first students to receive visas from the
United States since 2002 after President Bush severely curtailed
academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba. In fact, in one
positive advancement under the Obama Administration, visas for Cubans
to travel to the United States are up approximately 65 percent overall,
according to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
On February 23, 2010, Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in a Havana hospital,
where he had been transferred from prison after an 83-day hunger strike
in Cuba. Mr. Zapata was among the 75 internal opposition activists
detained in Cuba in March of 2003. He and the others were quickly tried
and sentenced. Mr. Zapata was serving a 36-year sentence, extended
from an original three-year sentence. He was one of 55 Cubans who have
been designated by Amnesty International as “Prisoners of Conscience.”
The Latin America Working Group expresses our utmost sorrow at his
passing and our distress over this tragic and indefensible death. We
call upon the Cuban government to institute a thorough investigation
into Mr. Zapata’s death.