First large U.S. delegation to visit Cuba since opening of relations

Online Staff Report

Two Rockford-area organic farmers will be among the first large U.S. delegation to visit Cuba since the opening of relations with the country.

Rockford-area organic farmers Barbara and Richard Kanak will be joining the delegation to Cuba as a representative.

We are jumping on this opportunity to reach out to the Cuban people during this ‘great thaw,’” the Kanaks said. “We are eager to exchange ideas with Cubans on issues critical to both our societies, like environmental sustainability, reducing poverty, combating racism, and most importantly, growing food with minimal purchased chemicals. We have a lot to learn from each other.”

The activist group CODEPINK will be hosting a “super delegation” of 150 people to Cuba to mark the recent thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations, particularly the easing of travel restrictions. Timed for Valentine’s Day, the “To Cuba With Love” delegation will include some of the nation’s most dynamic activists, including leaders from the peace and justice movements, and the environmental, health care and LGBTQ communities, and representatives from Ferguson, Missouri, working on police accountability. Instead of traveling under the onerous license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, they will now be traveling under a general educational license.

The delegation will have high-level meetings with government officials, visit members of the Cuban 5 who were recently released from U.S. prison, talk to doctors who combat Ebola in Africa, meet with entrepreneurs about the new business possibilities, and interact with local people about cultural, economic, environmental, educational, agricultural and health care issues.

Numerous delegates have been involved with Cuban/U.S. issues for years — lobbying, protesting, advocating for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison, setting up sister cities and committing civil disobedience by openly challenging the travel restrictions. Some, including CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, had their passports taken away and their bank accounts frozen for their activities.

It’s so exciting that after 50 years, the U.S. government is finally beginning to lift the ridiculous restrictions on our right to visit our Cuban neighbors,” said Benjamin. “We look forward to the day when all restrictions are lifted.”

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Posted Jan. 23, 2015

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