First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 3, Nos. 8-9, July-August 1964
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s note: The 84 young people who went to Cuba arrived in the United States on August 14. A special issue of PROGRESSIVE LABOR will carry a full account of their trip and their arrival.
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A year ago there was talk about “testing” the State Department ban on travel to Cuba, by going there. This summer this illegal paper barricade is in shreds and 84 young Americans are in Cuba learning the truth about the Revolution and absorbing socialism at first hand.
The students, led by Eddie Lemansky, a graduate of Antioch College and a member of the Progressive Labor Movement, hail from California, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and the territory of Puerto Rico; including such schools as the Univ. of California, Harvard, Univ. of Iowa, Univ. of Wisconsin, Chicago Univ., City College of New York, Brooklyn College, New York University, Columbia Univ., Wayne State Univ., San Francisco State College, Stanford Univ., and Oakland City College.
The bulk of this year’s group left on June 9th and 10th and arrived, via Prague, at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport on June 12th. They were greeted by 500 cheering Cuban students who regaled them with flowers and songs.
Among the activities of the group during their first few days in Cuba was a visit to the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. There they saw photographs of the crimes committed against the Cuban people during the regime of the dictator Batista, and the documentary film about the disastrous invasion of Playa Giron, the first defeat in America of North American imperialism. The students decided then and there to donate their own blood as a gesture of sympathy to the Cuban people and their Revolution. ”I wanted to be first,” said 16 year old Scott Wilson of San Francisco, who was rejected because he is a minor. Others like the University of California student Yvonne Bond, made it clear that they intended their blood to express more than sympathy. She declared, “This for me is my biggest anti-imperialist act. Here is my blood to be used by a Cuban who may be wounded fighting some possible attack by the United States.”
Before leaving for a four day tour of Pinar del Rio, Eddie Lemansky, in an interview with Alberto Perez of Prensa Latina, stated, “We condemn the illegal espionage flights and North American aggressions against Cuba.” Referring to theOfficial North American opposition to the students’ trip to Cuba, Lemansky said, “The United States Government is unhappy with the idea that its citizens may visit Cuba; it doesn’t want them to see what socialism really is, it is afraid of socialism and socialist ideas; it is afraid that if we see what is really happening, in Cuba we might discover that much of what the North American press says is a lie or a half truth. Washington also fears that on our return we may speak to the people and convince them that socialism is the solution to the many problems we face there.”
Lemansky was certain that many students in his country sympathized with the Cuban Revolution or doubted that the North American press tells the truth. He based this on the 500 applications received from many North American universities, sent by students who wanted to make the trip sponsored by the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba. He said that he wanted to get an idea of how socialism functions in practice: “You can read and re-read all you want, but that is never enough. For Lenin that was, but now that we have examples of socialism in many parts of the world, now that millions of people live under Socialism, we who support that doctrine do not have to be satisfied with merely reading about it and nothing more.”
The young North American indicated as his greatest impresion, so far during his short stay in Cuba, “the massive support the Cuban people give the socialist revolution.”
The group visited a thermoelectric plant in Mariel, Pinar del Rio and many Granjas del Pueblo (State Farms). “What do you understand by communism,” Ginger Weinberg of the City College of New York asked a young worker there? “Communism is work for the collective with the certainty that each day that passes we will be better. The future belongs to us.” Visibly moved, she said, “Each hour that passes I hear the most beautiful things that give me a sense of the stature of the men of this country.”
Back in Havana, the students met with a touring Chinese gymnastics team. In the name of the Chinese students, Shi Yu Long, a student of Spanish at the University of Havana, exchanged a warm welcome with Charles Simmons of Detroit, a former student at Wayne State University, who acted as spokesman for the Americans. The difference in languages was no barrier because the Chinese students spoke Spanish, and so did many of the Americans. For the first time in their lives the North American students saw films on the social, political and economic progress in China “It has been a day of great revelations for all of us,” said Roberto Rubalcava.
The next day, June 27, the students presented a declaration demanding that the U.S. Government recognize the right of self-determination of the people of south Vietnam. The declaration, which was signed by 61 of the 75 students, began, “We, the undersigned, young North Americans visiting Cuba, offer these statements of support for the people of south Vietnam in their just fight for liberation from the imperialist oppression directed by our government. Today our government is unleashing one of the most brutal and criminal wars in history. In this war North American poison gases are ruining Vietnamese crops, exterminating its crops, killing and mutilating the Vietnamese people.” It went on to explain that all over the world, in Spain and Portugal, in South Africa, in Latin America, the United States supports racist and reactionary regimes which oppress the people, and that the intransigence of U.S. imperialism forces the people to take up arms in order to gain and defend their liberty. “Inside our country opposition to those wars and struggles is also taking form. Many people have openly denounced the war against south Vietnam, and, as part of the Student Anti-Imperialist May 2nd Movement, hundreds of young men have signed a petition refusing to fight against the south Vietnamese people. When we examine the facts we see that we have no difference with them. Our government is working feverishly to disorient us about the nature of the war in that country and the fights for liberation taking place in other parts of the world. We understand that we must begin a relentless battle against those wars. If we fail in this responsibility, misery, destruction and death will continue reigning over the world. If we triumph, people will begin to control their own lives and will join hands to put an end to the barbarity of the past and present.”
With the group beginning its island-wide tour, in Matanzas province, the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba once again defied the State Department—openly—and sent five more students to Cuba on June 30. Susan Rotolo of New York, Robert Collier of Boston, Alan Lowe of San Diego, California, Steve Newman of New York and Jeff Goldstein of New York, publicly announced their intention to go to Cuba at a press conference in the New York International Airport. Susan, a New York artist, and Steve, a graduate physics student at Columbia University, refused to submit their passports to a State Department stooge in London, and three hours later Alan, Bob and Jeff joined them in that stand and the five continued on the Prague. Great joy prevailed as they joined the 75 at the International Hotel in Varadero, Matanzas, and with that the 80 North Americans proceeded on to Santa Clara, Las Villas.
On July 20th, four more young Americans left the United States to join the group in Cuba. The four were Jane Wittman, 22, of Paramus, New Jersey, Judy Warden, 20, of New York, Elizabeth Geismar, 22, of Harrison, New York, and Edward Rosenfeld, 27, of Berkeley, California.
The Cuban weekly magazine Bohemia, carried a four page spread on the group: caricatures of individuals with their respective comments on their experiences for captions.
Tony Murad, 21, student of photography at the Art Center School, Los Angeles, California: “The attacks against Cuba are demonstrations of the injustice of the U.S. Government and of the fear the imperialists have of socialism. There is happiness in Cuba because the people are free. I came to show the Cubans and the Latin Americans that there are also revolutionaries in the U.S.”
Mary Maher, 19, student of dance, Harvard University: “What is happening in Cuba is what we need there in the United States, and that’s why I came to see the Revolution.”
Vincent Lynch, 39, reporter for the Sun-Reporter, San Francisco, California: “Fidel represents the new life for Cuba and Latin America. Racial integration in Cuba has greatly impressed me. White and black are with the Revolution.”
Charles Simmins, 22, student of journalism, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan: “The naval base at Caimanera (Guantanamo) must go. The war policy of imperialism endangers the world. The people of Cuba, south Vietnam and the Afro-Americans are suffering under Yankee imperialism. Fidel is not only the leader of the liberation movement of Cuba, but also of many other countries. He is the greatest leader of the moment and has fulfilled all he promised in “History Will Absolve Me.” Cuba is a paradise compared with the injustices and atrocities that are committed in the United States.”
Jose Carlos Colon, 19, student, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico: The North American aggressions against Cuba are intolerable. If we could, it would be but awhile before we kick the Yankees out of Puerto Rico. The Cuban Revolution pleases me even more since it took a socialist character.”
Luis Miguel Valdez, 24, student of drama, San Jose State College, San Jose, California: “The Cuban Revolution has given birth to a great hope for the future.”
Karen Sacks, 22, student of Anthropology, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts: “What has impressed me most in Cuba is the enthusiasm the people feel for the Revolution.”
Robert Abts, 22, student of International Relations, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin: “The aggressions against Cuba are illegal and I see them as if they were against my own self. I agree with the policy of the Cuban Revolution. I have seen no racial discrimination here.”
Manuel “Pito” Colon, 33, sociologist, San Juan, Puerto Rico: ”I have two reasons for visiting Cuba. First, because I want to see with my own eyes what is happening here, the reality of the Cuban Revolution, and at the same time to defy the ban on travel to Cuba imposed by the State Department.”
Joel Agee, 24, student, City College of New York: “The aggressive policy of the United States against Cuba is criminal and a danger to world peace. It is necessary for the North American people to protest strongly against that policy.
Shirley Stoute, 22, office worker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fidel has the obvious support of the people. I came to Cuba to study the Revolution and its problems. This interests us because the United States needs a Revolution.”
Gino Foreman, 23, musician, New York: “The aggressions against Cuba are a result of the sickness that the United States suffers. Fidel Castro is the intellectual leader of America. The defeat of imperialism will come sooner than most people think.”
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The students, who have already encountered a Cuba very different from the one depicted in the American press, will wind up their island-wide tour in Santiago, the capitol city of Oriente province, where Fidel Castro will make his annual 26th of July speech. After the 26th they will head back to Havana for another two week stay before returning to the States.