The Latin American Labor Leaders tour kicked off March 21 in Cleveland demanding an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba and its trade and travel ban that prevents workers from exchanging views and direct understanding.
The participation of Gilda Chacón Bravo from the Confederation of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba) and the World Federation of Trade Unions has been stalled by the U.S. State Department. Although approved for a visa, her passport is currently held by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, making it impossible for her to travel and take part in the tour.
Protest letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were signed by participants. Martha Grevatt, chair of the Civil and Human Rights Committee of UAW Local 122 and Peoples Fightback Center organizer, chaired the meeting and declared that workers’ solidarity could not be stopped and neither would this tour.
A wide cross section of Cleveland unions and the community warmly engaged Ronald Quesada, a national directorate member of the National Union of Social Security Fund Employees in Costa Rica (UNDECA). Quesada was one of many union leaders who applied to the U.S. State Department for a visa to join the tour, but the only one to date who has been approved.
Quesada discussed labor conditions in Costa Rican shipyards, health care and mining; immigration, the imperialist-sponsored free trade agreements and the development of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Quesada’s union is a member of ALBA, although Costa Rica is not.
Ignacio Meneses from the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange spoke and translated. Greetings were given by meeting organizers including Deb Kline, Cleveland Jobs with Justice organizer; Brian Stefan-Szittai, director of the Inter Religious Task Force on Central America; Harold Wilson, president of the Cuyahoga-Medina Community Action Program Council of the United Auto Workers; and Tito Boneta, president of UAW Local 1005.
Also present were members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Teamsters, the Steelworkers, AFSCME, North Shore Labor Federation Retirees and a representative from the office of Congressperson Dennis Kucinich. A generous collection contributed to financing the tour.
The Latin American Labor Leaders tour will meet with workers in Toledo, Ohio; Detroit; Chicago; San Diego; Los Angeles; and New York. Find a complete and updated schedule of public events at laborexchange.blogspot.com. Online donations can be made at that site as well. Media interviews are available by calling 313-575-4933. Overall sponsors are the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange, the World Federation of Trade Unions-Americas and the International Action Center.
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