BY EMILY FITZSIMMONS
PITTSBURGH - More than 30 people assembled at the Federal Building here January 24 for an emergency press conference and protest to demand that Washington end its ban on travel to Cuba, stop government harassment of those who travel there, and end the U.S. economic embargo. Called by the Pittsburgh Cuba Coalition, the action was in response to recent letters of interrogation sent out by the Treasury Department to people who have traveled to Cuba and a phone call the FBI made to the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh the previous week, inquiring about the Pittsburgh Cuba Coalition.
It was also timed to take advantage of the substantial press coverage around the Pope's trip to Cuba. Three major television networks covered the protest, as did the city's two major dailies, the Post Gazette and the Tribune Review.
Ginny Hildebrand of the Pittsburgh Cuba Coalition and MUSIC, an organization of musicians that sends musical instruments to Cuba, explained the demands of the protest. She also introduced Sandy Kelson of Veterans for Peace; Mark Ginzburg, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh; and Miguel Sague, a Cuban singer who lives in Pittsburgh - all of whom gave brief remarks.
Ginzburg, who leaves for Cuba in February with the Pittsburgh-Matanzas Sister City project, condemned the "unlawful and immoral behavior [of the U. S. government], which for the last 38 years has sought to impose economic and political change on Cuba, undermine the freedom to travel, and prevent the exchange of ideas."
Coalition activists utilized this event to publicize an upcoming broadly-sponsored meeting entitled "Why is Travel to Cuba a U.S. Crime?" that will take place at the University of Pittsburgh February 11.
ATLANTA - The second lead story on the ABC television 11:00 news here January 23 was an interview with Félix Wilson, Deputy Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. "The Pope's visit was a victory for Cuba," he said, pointing out that ABC news itself sent 300 people to cover the Pope's trip to Cuba, compared to just 25 sent to cover his visit to Brazil. "The media and others" are mistaken when they say "the Pope will change Cuba," he added.
Some 60 people turned out January 23 to hear Wilson speak at a meeting on "The Economic Recovery of Cuba in the Face of the Helms-Burton Law," sponsored by the Atlanta Network on Cuba. Several young people attended after receiving flyers at the Martin Luther King Day march earlier in the week.
"The message of Cuba must be heard," Wilson told the meeting at the North Decatur Presbyterian Church. The misnamed Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the Helms-Burton Law, was signed by President William Clinton in 1996. It tightens the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba in an attempt "aimed at overthrowing the Cuban government and killing the Cuban people with hunger," said Wilson. He emphasized that Washington "does not like Cuba being a socialist country. But we are, have been, and will be a socialist country -with free education, health care, and all of the benefits for the people."
Wilson focused on the economic crisis in Cuba, known as the special period, sparked by the end of Soviet aid in 1991, and how the revolutionary government "instituted measures to stabilize the economy and prevent the suffering of the people." He pointed out that through the effort of the Cuban people, the Gross Domestic Product has increased in each of the last few years, by 7.8 percent in 1996 and 2.5 percent in 1997.
Earlier Wilson participated in a three-day symposium on "The Postmodern Caribbean" January 21 - 23 at the University of Georgia in Athens. The gathering was addressed by writers and university professors, in addition to ambassadors to the United States from the Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia, and the Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Wilson expressed his gratitude for the Pope's call to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Commenting on several Congressional proposals to limit the embargo, Wilson concluded that "Cuba appreciates all efforts, but Cuba's position is to lift the entire embargo, not just food and medicine."