On behalf of the members and leaders of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), we send our condolences and heartfelt thanks to the people of Cuba during this time of national mourning at the loss of Fidel Castro Ruz. Cuba under his leadership inspired generations worldwide to act in solidarity across national lines and against poverty, racism, disease and profit-inspired threats to the world’s environment. We remember Fidel’s encounters with leaders such as Malcolm X in Harlem to Nelson Mandela in South Africa with the solidarity and affection with which they took place. We see the lasting results of Cuba’s internationalism, including its medical solidarity and literacy programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America; its free medical education for U.S. students – particularly students of color; and in the liberation of southern Africa from white colonialism.
Since the first days of the U.S. blockade, the NLG has actively promoted friendship with the people of Cuba and defended the U.S. solidarity movement from government repression. NLG co-founder Victor Rabinowitz was the first President of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, the first group in defense of Cuba after the revolution triumphed in 1959, until 1960 when he and NLG member Leonard B. Boudin were personally retained by Che Guevara to represent the Cuban government with respect to engagement and relations with the United States. Boudin challenged the U.S. government’s attempts to prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba, including three times before the U.S. Supreme Court (in Zemel v. Rusk; U.S. v. Laub, and Regan v. Wald). The late Debra Evenson, past President of the NLG, assisted in the firm’s representation of Cuba and wrote the leading scholarly studies in English on the Cuban legal system.
From the outset, NLG members directly challenged the travel ban by civil disobedience as members of the Venceremos Brigade. Since 1970, the NLG has regionally and nationally sent delegations of members to Cuba. For the past 17 years, the NLG Labor and Employment Committee has sponsored annual study trips to Cuba and has hosted the head of the Cuban Labor Law Society at many NLG conventions.
It has been the NLG’s great honor to organize legal support and assistance by our members for the Cuba solidarity movement in the U.S., including for the Antonio Maceo Brigade, the Venceremos Brigade, the Center for Cuban Studies, Casa de las Americas, the Committee for July 26th and the thousands of local solidarity activists who worked to build friendship with the people of Cuba and break the blockade for more than five decades.
The NLG has been instrumental in creating a “path” for Cubans to obtain visas to come to the U.S. in order to address U.S. audiences in professional conferences. The NLG’s 40th Anniversary convention in Seattle in 1977 was the first time Cubans were given visas and were able to speak to a U.S. audience outside the United Nations since the beginning of the blockade. Many guests from Cuba followed in the 1980s and 1990s, including Ruben Remigio Ferro, the President of the Supreme Court of Cuba, making his only visit to the U.S. for the 1999 NLG convention in San Francisco.
NLG’s Cuba solidarity work grew rapidly in the late 1970s and 1980s, during which several hundred Guild members visited Cuba on people-to-people Guild-sponsored groups, and formed the Cuba Subcommittee at the 1977 convention. The Cuba Subcommittee would
later organize 200 NLG members and families to attend the XVth Congress of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in Havana in 2000.
When the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations resumed policies of intense hostility toward Cuba, the NLG’s legal support role became especially critical. The Cuba Subcommittee, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, set up and trained a national network of over 50 lawyers to advise and represent U.S. travelers to Cuba during the travel crackdown from 2000-2006, including assistance at all of the dozens of “trials for travel” held in Washington D.C. Such counseling has continued throughout the years, as well as providing current representation for renewed prosecutions and preparing for future challenges.
NLG lawyers, including the late Leonard Weinglass and Rafael Anglada López, represented the the Cuban political prisoners known as the “Cuban 5,” and Guild lawyers prepared a series of amicus briefs which the NLG and international lawyers associations filed on their behalf, including at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The NLG has continued to defend solidarity activists and organizations from attacks to this day. In the spirit of Joe Hill, the National Lawyers Guild and its Cuba Subcommittee pledge to honor the legacy of Cuba’s fallen leader by renewing our efforts and by asking all who seek peace and justice to organize and demand: (1) an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, (2) the restoration of freedom of travel to Cuba, (3) the respect of Cuba’s sovereignty as a nation, and (4) the restoration of the land in Guantánamo that is rightfully and legally Cuban soil.
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan,
President, National Lawyers Guild
Chair, NLG Cuba Subcommittee