The author of this article, Pete Seidman, is a long time socialist who is active in the US Hands Off Cuba and Venezuela South Florida Coalition
On Sunday, February 28, more than 100 bicycles and cars supporting the Miami Caravan Against the Blockade made its way through the streets of Miami. Plastered with signs and banners, flashers blinking and horns blaring, the caravan demanded an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba. It was the eighth in a series of caravans held on the last Sunday of each month by a movement that has grown from 11 bicycles last July. Their numbers have been doubling from month to month, with an ever-more-certain voice, and greater level of organization.
The central message was again underscored by the initiator of these efforts, Jorge Medina, a YouTube personality who goes by the name El Proteston Cubano. As he told a news conference at the start of this month’s caravan:
“We are a movement of many different opinions. We don’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat, a capitalist or a socialist, what unites us is a love of the Cuban family that drives us to demand an end to the blockade of Cuba, of policies that restrict our right to travel, to send remittances that help our families.”
Medina was originally inspired by Carlos Lazo, a Cuban-American Iraq war veteran, now a teacher, whose bicycle trip from Seattle to Washington, DC called for “Bridges of Love” to end the embargo of Cuba.
Born in Cuba, Lazo crossed the Florida Straits on a raft in 1991. He was rescued six miles off the coast of Key West and brought ashore. The Cuba Educational Travel website reports that he had previously spent a year in prison in Cuba. Later, he joined the National Guard and was deployed to the Iraq War as a combat medic in Falluja.
Afterwards, Lazo was shocked, the website notes, when, “fresh off seven months of life-threatening and soul-crushing service in Iraq, he was stopped from boarding an airplane to Havana to see his family as the result of newly-enacted Bush Administration laws that limited Cuban-Americans to one two-week visit to the island every three years. No ifs, ands or buts. War hero? No importa.”
Medina left Cuba 11 years after Lazo also did some time in a Cuban prison. On his first return to Cuba, in 2012, after 10 years of living in the United States, he went to march with the Ladies in White [an opposition movement in Cuba founded in 2003 by wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents – Ed.]. He met Antonio Rodiles, and wanted to experience the opposition…. The trip made him discover, among other things, that that discourse did not represent him, that his voice was different.
As with many other Cuban immigrants, the life they found in the U.S. turned out to be different from the myths that motivated them to come here in the first place. They became students in the hard school of Uncle Sam University and graduated as different people! People who not only saw their new country in a different light, but also the homeland they had left.
Old mythologies are being torn down by new realities. A U.S. foreign policy born in hatred of Cuba’s 1959 revolution (and fear that by its example Yankee domination throughout the Caribbean and Latin America would be challenged), was given legs in the infamous Mallory Memorandum. The State Department document grudgingly (and privately) acknowledged the popularity of the new Castro government, and insisted that the only way this could be overcome was by imposing such great economic suffering on the island that social unrest would be provoked against the regime.
The crushing of the Bay of Pigs invasion by a popular mobilization of Cuban forces confirmed Mallory’s analysis and gave birth to the blockade. For 60 years, Washington has adopted measure after measure to “make Cuba safe for America again.” And for 60 years Cuba has resisted.
But now the bipartisan economic and political warfare of 12 presidencies is encountering unexpected and unwelcome resistance in a place no one would ever have thought to look: the streets of those quintessentially Cuban parts of this city known as Hialeah and Little Havana!
It should not surprise any careful observer that the caravan movement that is growing here (and which found an echo this month in similar protests in New York City, Ottawa, Montreal, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Los Angeles), was inevitably going to find its voice among newer generations of Cuban immigrants.
A rightwing Mafia was enabled and encouraged by administration after administration to supply certain modest privileges (enhanced social benefits and immigration laws not available to, for example, refugees from Haiti and other lands where dictatorships met with Washington’s favor) aimed at grooming Miami as a base of anti-Communist sentiment, privileges supplanted by thuggish terror and social intimidation against any who refused to go along (three months after Medina started his YouTube channel in August, 2015, for example, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at his car).
University think tanks were financed to create more polite ideologies and rationales for this set up, where Cuban bankers and sweatshop owners exalted a hatred for Fidel while the big majority of Cuban immigrants here toiled without unions in what became the poverty areas of Little Havana and Hialeah.
A myth of Miami — as a unified bloc of political reaction and a hot bed of support for Trump, Rubio, Scott, and others of this ilk — was fortified in some ways by the results of the 2020 election. A superficial observer could correctly note the increased number of votes for Trump, the ouster of Clinton Democrat Donna Shalala, and other electoral blows to the Democratic Party machine here (which had carried Miami-Dade County for Clinton in 2016).
But the caravan movement began in the middle of that electoral campaign, when all activity is, by the conventions of American politics, supposed to be subordinated to electoral requirements. And it nearly doubled each month as the election approached.
While still small when measured against politics counted in millions of votes, the caravans are rooted in the same kind of material realities that fueled rapid growth and impact in earlier movements such as the abolitionists, the suffragists, the followers of Dr. King, or the opponents of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Just as with these other movements, the established forces of the status quo, if properly confronted, will not be able to maintain their grip either on mythology or reality.
Public opinion polls show the caravans reflect a polarized and nearly evenly divided popular opinion among Cubans here. A 2019 annual survey conducted by Florida International University found that, “Although the overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans polled agreed the embargo has not worked — more than 80 percent — the community remains divided on whether it should be kept.
Not surprisingly, under a barrage of rightist propaganda from the Trump administration, “Opinions have changed significantly since former President Barack Obama restored relations with the island’s government in 2015,” the survey found.
Of 1,001 Cuban Americans polled in Miami-Dade, 45% favor maintaining the embargo, 44% oppose it, and 11% said they don’t know or did not provide an answer.
Those results represent a slight rightward shift compared with the “increased optimism toward an engagement” found by the FIU poll in 2016, when support for ending the embargo hit 54%, according to the pollsters, FIU professors Guillermo Grenier and Hugh Gladwin.
But within that overall drift, there is sharpening polarization where “Opposition to the embargo is strongest among the youth, the second and third generation Cuban Americans and those who arrived in the United States after 1995….” while “support for the embargo increased especially among the so-called historic exiles — those who emigrated from 1959 to 1979…”
In other words, exactly the people coming out in growing numbers since the caravans began in July.
Overall, “Cuban Americans continue to welcome and support many of the changes in U.S. policy since December 2014, such as travel, the maintenance or expansion of limited economic relations and the willingness to allow U.S. citizens to invest in Cuban businesses,” the survey’s authors wrote. “Yet, there is a retrenchment of old, less conciliatory positions by the old, less conciliatory segments of the community.”
The relaxation of restrictions on travel and family remittances to Cuba made by the Obama administration were extremely popular here. The Miami Herald reports “The number of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba surged by 74% from 2015 to 2016, according to Cuba.”
Later, The Herald reported how this trend continued. “[B]y mid-year 2016, visits by Cubans living abroad — most of them residing in the U.S. — and by other U.S. travelers to Cuba had climbed to the second and third spots among all international visitors to the island, trailing only visitors from Canada. From January to June, non-family visits increased from 76,183 to 136,913, and that was before the first regularly scheduled flights from U.S. cities to Cuba in more than half a century began in August 2016.
“Full-year breakouts aren’t yet available for 2016, but Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator in talks with the United States, said recently that the combined total of visits by Cuban Americans and other U.S. travelers last year was 614,433, a 34% increase.”
“From Miami International Airport alone, 588,433 passengers departed for Cuba in 2016, compared to 444,667 the previous year. Included in the count are Cubans returning to the island after making U.S. visits. Passengers arriving and Departing for Cuba through MIA reached nearly 1.2 million last year, compared to 907,263 in 2015.”
Per the Herald, also popular were Obama rules that allowed Cubans living in Miami to send money to their families in Cuba. Claiming that these remittances were being pocketed by companies run by the Cuban military, the Trump administration shut them down, “We are talking about $3.7 billion a year that the military manages at will,” Emilio Morales of the Havana Consulting Group consulting firm, told the Miami Herald.
The 240 measures aimed at upending these policies implemented by the Trump administration were very unpopular. These were felt as painful and personal blows against the right to travel, to see and help their families, by more than half a million Cubans in the U.S.
Also not to be ignored is the political impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has hit the poverty areas of Little Havana and Hialeah disproportionately.
While mainstream media has gone out of their way to minimize the information, many understand that despite the brutal blockade that actively targets Cuba’s medical system, challenging the country’s ability to acquire medical supplies and equipment and sustain its public health infrastructure, Cuba has limited the spread of the virus, reducing the human cost of the pandemic, and continued its offers of medical assistance to nations around the world.
In Cuba, 0.1% of the population has tested positive for Covid-19 compared to 6.9% of Florida’s population. And once infected, a person in Cuba has a 50% better chance of surviving the disease than here! Soon, Cuban developed vaccines will be available on a massive scale on the island and for distribution in other nations too poor to be able to compete in the world market for the privately-developed medicines going into the arms of North Americans and Europeans.
It is within this set of material facts that the caravan movement is beginning to mature. From the inspiring example of a handful of people, the caravanistas have now begun to develop their own organized process of decision making. They have set up a committee to organize defense of their actions from any attempts by Miami’s strong rightwing forces to disrupt, provoke, or violence-bait their movement and obscure its message of peace. They stress that they are a movement building bridges of love that represents an emerging majority, and that right-wing supporters of the blockade are contras who have no moral standing to represent themselves as the true voice of Miami Cubans.
They have set up a committee to do media work and outreach. Newspapers, TV, and radio stations here for too long have refused to give objective coverage to these newsworthy developments. The results of this initial organized work are encouraging. Univision, CBS2 TV, and MagaTV Channel 22, all gave more or less objective coverage to this month’s caravan for the first time.
There has been an old guard of traditional organizations in the Miami community that have fought heroically against the blockade for decades, often facing murderous violence and terrorist attacks and the slanders of politicians and a kept press. What is news in Miami now is that new generations of Cubans are coming into opposition to the blockade based on the experience of their families in Cuba now and their life now in the United States. There is not simply a drift to the right, but instead a more complex process of polarization that opens wonderful opportunities to expand the fight against the blockade.
The February caravan in Miami ended with joyous dancing in the parking lot after vehicles returned to the starting point. Anti-blockade activists of many decades, some who brought their children along, joined with people for their very first event. El Proteston was seen jumping up and down with joy. Some described it as an occasion of great love for and inside the Cuban community for what has been accomplished. But even if not every activist can dance like Cubans, our hearts can all sing with what is developing in the streets of Miami!
— Peter Seidman
The Platform of the Green Party of the United States states:
“We reject the U.S. government’s economic blockade of Cuba. We ask the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo and restore normal diplomatic relations and respect for national sovereignty, and demand that the U.S. government end its veto of U.N. resolutions pertaining to Cuba.”
The Platform of the Green Party of Florida calls for:
“The immediate normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba,” and “Active promotion of cultural, academic, religious and commercial exchanges between Florida and Cuba, including sister city relationships and other projects which build friendship and understanding between the people and communities of Florida and Cuba.”