As evidence, she cites the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which prohibits foreign companies that trade with the U.S. from also trading with Cuba. The law also prevents travel to Cuba by American citizens and imposes limits on how many times Cubans living in America can travel to their homeland to visit family. In 1996, the U.S. enacted a penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a fine for violators of the embargo.
As Valanti sees it, such restrictions are too harsh.
“Americans don’t realize how egregious this Cuba law is,” she said. “When the U.S. government tells you when you can visit your family, how free is our country?”
After their North American tour, the caravan will head to McAllen, Texas, which is located five miles from the U.S.-Mexican border, and then drive to the coastal town of Tampico, Mexico. There, the caravan will meet up with a Mexican union group that will help them load a ship with donated aid and supplies for delivery to Cuba. The group will then fly into Havana.
Maribou Latour, a Cuban American living in Leverett, will be joining the caravan for the first time on this trip. Word of her trip would likely dismay her parents — both of whom back U.S. trade restrictions against Cuba. She hasn’t yet told them that she is going.
Latour said she is joining the caravan because she wants to know what is really going on in her family’s homeland.
“I need to see Cuba for myself,” she said. “I have been told a lot of things about it by my parents that now I am realizing are not true. I need to see it for myself and tell my family what I saw.”
Valanti said that the hallmark of the trip is the “people to people” exchange between the caravan members and the Cuban civil society activists working to improve life on the island.
“The Cubans love this project,” she said. “They warmly welcome us, and genuinely want to learn more about us.”
Valanti said that the Cubans she meets are particularly concerned about the plight of African Americans. The rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans and the possibility that Barack Obama will be elected the first African American U.S. president are regular topics of discussion all over the island, she said.
As far as the future of U.S.-Cuban relations is concerned, Valanti said there is a slight chance that an Obama administration would eliminate the Cuban Democracy Act. There is no such chance if presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is elected, she said, because he has stated before that he will not negotiate with the communist state.
However, Valanti thinks that the American people, not politicians, are the ones who can really be agents of change.
“Most Americans favor ending this embargo,” she said. “What kind of people are we if we don’t demand this?”
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