Cuban and US youth to exchange views
by Tony Pecinovsky On July 23 over 250 young people participating in the 3rd US-Cuba Youth Exchange are due to begin a nine-day trip to Cuba, where they are to meet Cuban youth and students and discuss many of the pressing issues of the day — issues like peace, education, health, culture, unemployment, racism and sexism. The US-Cuba Youth Exchange will bring together youth delegates from across the US. For many in the Youth United Delegation (YUD), one of the delegations going, this will be their first experience in Cuba. While travel to the socialist island nation is becoming more difficult in the face of the US Government's increasing hostility, the Youth Exchange delegates will learn first hand what Cuban society is really like. In a clear attempt to intimidate would-be travellers, the Bush administration, in March, ended the "people to people" educational licences that allowed Americans to legally explore Cuba. Further, since Bush took office, over 1200 Americans have received letters from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, threatening fines of up to US$55,000 for violating the travel ban to the island. Last year 160,000 Americans had approval to visit Cuba, while 60,000 others went without government approval. While the Bush administration pursues a policy of war rather than diplomatic and peaceful co-existence, the YUD, like its predecessors, is pursuing a policy dedicated to "people to people" diplomacy, exemplified by the multiracial, working class delegation of US youth and students. For YUD delegates like Julie Rodriguez from Los Angeles, "it is important that we continue to maintain relationships on a personal level despite the restrictions that the administration tries to impose." YUD co-ordinator Jessica Marshall said, "Many of the delegates want to go to Cuba because they don't believe what Bush has said. . It is important for people to get first-hand impressions of Cuba, rather than the corporate media's impression." "US policy towards Cuba is out-of-date. It is hurting the Cuban people", said Molly Kelley, a delegate from Iowa and a leader of the Young Communist League. "The Cuban and American people should know a lot more about each other. It is a twenty-minute flight. Unfortunately most people only know what the media tells them." Noting the diversity of the delegation Alcy Montas, an activist from Uptown Youth for Peace and Justice, NYC said "we come from so many different backgrounds — dealing with police brutality, budget cuts, attacks on affirmative action, war and attacks on working people ... that's what makes us the most effective ambassadors for peace, and that's why we're going to Cuba."
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