Brock Satter, an African American poet and bandleader of a “spoken-soul-hop fusion” group, was a featured artist at the Ninth Annual Hip-Hop Festival in Havana in 2003. Satter traveled legally to Cuba under the U.S. regulations in force at the time. But subsequently, he received a letter from the U.S. Treasury Department requesting information on his trip and threatening him with penalties.
The U.S. government has been multiplying the legal barriers to travel to the island country. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, U.S. citizens not
traveling under a special license are prohibited from spending money in Cuba under the threat of a criminal penalty of a maximum $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
The government so far has taken few steps to actually impose these penalties but the threats are constantly becoming more insistent. In this context, in
Minneapolis, a defense committee was organized to support Satter and to oppose the ban on travel to Cuba. The following speech by solidarity activist Dave Riehle was given to a meeting of the committee on Aug. 29, 2004.
by Dave Riehle
We’ve come together today as citizens of the world who reside within the political borders of the United States to demand a halt to the harassment and
intimation of Brock Satter.
All Brock did was to travel from Minneapolis to bring his talents as an African American poet and artist to our neighbor to the south, Cuba. What’s wrong with that? He did it legally, which isn’t so easy; he performed, and he returned without incident or challenge from the border vigilantes. That should be the “End of Story.” So why is the U.S. government harassing him? That is, of course, no secret.
Cuba has been the object of official bipartisan American hostility, and of terrorism and assassination, since 1959—ever since they took the oil
and sugar refineries away from the Yankees and gave them to the Cuban people. This is all a matter of undisputed record, especially since the congressional investigation sponsored by Senator Frank Church in the
1970s, which documented numerous U.S.-sponsored attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
In the 19th century General Sherman made his famous remark: ”Pity poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to Texas!” And now we can add: poor Cuba, so close to Florida and Jeb Bush! And they have the effrontery to criticize Cuban elections!
I think if the American people at large knew the truth, they would be as outraged as we are at these injustices. We have the sad spectacle of retired
Minnesotans taking the bus to Canada so they can get a break on the price of prescription drugs. What would they think if they knew 90 miles south of Florida the Cuban people have free quality health care?
I want to state here that I fully support the right of Americans to travel to Canada, even though it is a country that gives aid and comfort to the “evil
empire” by allowing its vacationing citizens to travel to Cuba in large numbers. But even the Canadians have a better health care system than we do, mainly because they have a third party in Canada called the New Democratic Party, which was started by the unions in the 1960s because they couldn’t tell the difference between their two old parties. Draw your own conclusions.
Let me just finish by making two observations. A few American citizens do travel legally to Cuba each year, like Brock did. For the most part the government does not bother them. A few years ago a delegation of big
shots from the American railroad industry went to Cuba—it was the cover story in Railway Age, the main industry magazine. They wanted to check out the
possibilities of selling locomotives, boxcars, and other railroad equipment to the Cubans. Nobody bothered them.
So why Brock? There is, of course, another reason. Cuba is a country predominantly of African descent. It is broadly seen within the African Diaspora in the Western hemisphere as liberated territory, including
in this country. The U.S. government has always been hostile to, and fearful of, any contact between these two cultures and peoples.
As you may know, when Fidel traveled to New York—to the United Nations—just after the revolution, where did he stay? At the Hotel Therese in Harlem.
The significance of that was not lost on the government, or on African Americans in this country either.
You know the famous actor, Cuba Goodings? He was born about that time. His parents were postal workers who were inspired by the Cuban revolution.
The American labor movement today faces a crisis of survival. With the dispersal of American corporate production throughout the globe, it is more essential than ever before that we become truly international, that we reach out across the globe to our counterparts in every country, that we set out for the first time in many decades with the aspiration of building a truly global and united labor movement.
In order to even begin, we must have, and we must demand that we have, the free and untrammeled right to communicate with our fellow workers throughout the globe—to do that independently and without interference. An essential and inseparable part of that is the right to travel, to travel freely as citizens of the world, as the producers of the world’s wealth, Brock Satter has done us all a favor and directed our attention to how valuable this basic human right is.
And by militantly asserting his right to do so free from harassment and intimidation. As it has been said so often before, his fight is our fight.