Cuba: US targets activists, baseball

Two US-based groups that carry out solidarity activities with Cuba, the Venceremos Brigade and Pastors for Peace, confirmed on Jan. 9 that the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has fined hundreds of their supporters a total of $1.5 million for traveling to Cuba. In July and August 2005 OFAC sent letters to about 200 people who have traveled to Cuba with the two organizations, which both refuse to apply for licenses to travel to Cuba as a protest against US restrictions they say infringe on their constitutional right to free travel. People who violate the US embargo against Cuba can face fines as high as $7,500.

Pastors for Peace spokesperson Lucia Bruno said participants have received letters from OFAC before but this was a significant escalation. “This time it’s different in that virtually everyone in the last caravan received the letter,” she said, referring to the 16th Annual Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba, in which some 130 activists delivered 140 tons of humanitarian aid for Cuba in July 2005. Some 70 solidarity activists with the Venceremos Brigade traveled to Cuba through Canada in August 2005 to protest the travel restrictions. Pastors for Peace leader Rev. Lucius Walker told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina that no measure adopted by the government in Washington would stop US activists’ traditional solidarity with Cuba. (Miami Herald, Jan. 13; posting on Latin America Solidarity listserve, Jan. 9, based on Prensa Latina)

Some 80 US Congress members signed a letter in December appealing to US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to allow Cuban baseball players to participate in the March World Baseball Classic, which starts in Tokyo and ends in San Diego. The US Treasury Department has denied the Cuban team a license to enter the US for the final game, on the grounds that the US embargo against Cuba doesn’t allow the team to receive payments; each team gets 1% of revenues from the tournament, and the winning team receives 5%. In a Dec. 22 letter the Cuban baseball federation said it “would be ready for the money corresponding to its participation in the classic to go to the victims of Hurricane Katrina left homeless in New Orleans.” Also on Dec. 22, Puerto Rico’s baseball federation announced it would not host games if the Cubans were not allowed to participate. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Dec. 20; Boston Globe, Dec. 23 from Reuters)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 15

See our last post on Cuba.