Six farmers who have been part of struggles against farm foreclosures, the devastating effects of the drop in prices paid to farmers for their products, and racist and sexist discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will travel to Cuba February 12. They have been invited by the National Association of Small Farmers for a one-week exchange.
The license grants the farmers the right to carry out "a structured program schedule of humanitarian and agricultural assessment activities, as consistent with section 515.575 of the Regulations during the visits to Cuba."
The U.S. government prevents its citizens from freely traveling to Cuba as part of its attempt to isolate and overturn the revolution.
While stopping short of an overtly unconstitutional bar on travel, regulations prohibit citizens from spending money while in Cuba unless they obtain approval from the Treasury Department, which has strict guidelines on who qualifies for the exemption.
Taking advantage of the fact that a large number of officials of various agricultural companies and farmers have been granted the right to travel to Cuba, the Atlanta Network on Cuba applied for the license last month for the trip.
For example, Illinois governor George Ryan took a 45-member delegation to Cuba last October that included officials of Archer Daniels Midland, Corp., Schering-Plough Corp., and the John Deere Foundation. The American Farm Bureau Federation president also visited Cuba last year. He, along with many agribusiness officials, see Cuba as a potential market for farm goods.
As part of getting out information on the fight of farmers, and about the trip to Cuba, Eddie Slaughter spoke to 150 students at an event sponsored by the Black History Month Steering Committee at the North Georgia College. North Georgia College, located 45 miles north of Atlanta, is historically a military college. Many students at the meeting wore army fatigues.
Slaughter, a farmer from south Georgia, is the national vice-president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association. He spoke about his involvement with the class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discriminatory practices against farmers who are Black. The talk, entitled "Black Farmers, Family Farmers: The Fight for Land and Justice Today," was the first official event of Black History Month.
Slaughter pointed to the discrimination the farmers face. "Black farmers are losing their land at three and a half times the rate of white farmers. On average it takes 122 days for processing loan applications for Black farmers as opposed to 65 days for a white farmer," he said.
Faced with the lawsuit and determined action by farmers, including rallies and other mobilizations, the Clinton administration declared a settlement in the suit. Many farmers have yet to receive the $50,000 or a deed to their land as promised. Slaughter pointed out that farmers who are part of the lawsuit are ineligible for any kind of disaster payments that other farmers qualify for. "Black farmers are penalized twice because of their involvement with the lawsuit against the USDA," he said.
Slaughter told the students he looked forward to visiting Cuba because, "There is no justice in America for the Black and the poor. Justice in America is for sale, just like everything else in the capitalist system. Black farmers don't have the money to buy justice in this country. We are taking our fight to Cuba and asking Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela to stand before the United Nations with us."
"Why do you want to stand beside the worst man in the entire world and what possible advance do you think you and the farmers can make by going to Cuba?" asked one student.
Slaughter said he appreciates Cuba's international missions, including their participation in the military battles that defended newly independent Angola from invasion by the white-minority regime of South Africa in the 1970s.
Cuban president Fidel Castro, he said, is "not my enemy. He's my friend. I admire Fidel."
"I can understand why you're going to Cuba and you don't think there's justice in this country," another student said. "Look at the way the U.S. treated Cuba right after the revolution. The Cubans came to the U.S. for help and were totally rejected so they had to turn elsewhere."
A faculty member put forward the point of view that there is a great deal of racism in Cuba. Another meeting participant responded, "But it's the U.S. that has the Confederate flag, not Cuba."
Slaughter explained that even though the U.S. government admits to discriminatory practices against Black farmers, "There has been no justice. We are faced with no other choice than to take our fight to Cuba and to internationalize the fight."
At the end of the discussion one student said, "I disagreed at first about why you should take the struggle to Cuba, but now I understand and wish you luck." There were other students who expressed agreement with the decision of some of the farmers to take the fight to Cuba but there were also many who did not see why anyone would want Fidel Castro as an ally.
Ernesto Johnson, a student at the college and member of the ROTC, said, "People just have to do what they have to do if you can't get justice here, especially if it is for humanitarian reasons."
Paul Cornish is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
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