The Venceremos Brigade is a politically motivated international organization founded in 1969 by members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and officials of the Republic of Cuba. It was formed as a coalition of young people attempting to show solidarity with the Cuban Revolution by working side by side with Cuban workers, challenging U.S. policies towards Cuba, including the United States embargo against Cuba. The yearly brigade trips, which as of 2010 have brought more than 9,000 people to Cuba, continue today and are coordinated with the Pastors For Peace Friendship Caravans to Cuba. The 48th Brigade travelled to Cuba in July 2017.
In 1969, SDS was composed of competing factions with individual priorities and visions. SDS delegates travelled to Havana, and were inspired by Fidel Castro's New Year's Day speech, in which he called on Cubans to help with the sugar harvest. Although the Americans originally offered to help by taking industrial jobs displaced by the massive sugar harvest, Fidel reportedly responded that if North Americans were to help, they would cut cane. Hoping to unite SDS members behind a new project, the leaders began planning a trip, bringing American activists to Cuba to cut sugar cane. Carl Oglesby originally presented the idea to members of SDS, but was ousted from SDS before it came to fruition. Bernardine Dohrn appointed Julie Nichamin and Brian Murphy to organize the trip. Allen Young was also partly responsible for the organization and negotiations with Carlos Rafael Rodríguez and other members of the Cuban government. While in the USA, the group met occasionally by regions to supervise, recruit, and fundraise for the trips. The trip cohort, the Venceremos ("we shall triumph" in Spanish language) Brigade, was promoted as an inspiring and educational experience.
In November 1969, the first brigade of 216 Americans travelled to Cuba from Mexico City to skirt the U.S. government's restrictions on travel to the island. The participants were to contribute to Cuba's monumental ten million ton zafra (harvest) of 1970, as well as to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. The second Brigade arrived in February 1970, to cut cane and learn about Cuban life. Although the zafra did not reach ten million tons, the Brigades continued.
In Venceremos Brigade, Sandra Levinson and Carol Brightman describe the participants, brigadistas, as "American radicals." They were attracted to Cuba by the socialist revolution taking place, the anti-imperialist movement, as well as Cuban culture. The Venceremos Brigade included a diverse group participants from the beginning. White, Black, Chicano, Native American, and Puerto Rican Americans, as well as activists and feminists participated. In part, the Venceremos Brigade went to Cuba to study revolutionary culture, Che Guevara, and Che's new socialist man. New Left philosophy permeated the movement. The brigadistas also invoked Cuba's history of antiracist and anticolonial movements, and referred to the Black Power and feminist movements in the USA, with the goal of creating a revolutionary political culture within the group.
However, despite the leftist nature of the Brigades and the Cuban government, conflict emerged between Brigade organizers and gay members of the Brigade and their allies. To Cuban officials, the gay liberation movement represented American imperialism, and was a challenge to Fidel Castro and Cuba. The organizers of the Venceremos Brigades settled on a Don't ask, don't tell policy, requiring queer brigadistas to refrain from discussing or performing their sexuality. Queer brigadistas were subject to homophobic slurs and questions, and homophobia was the overall policy. There were also race and gender-based tensions in the early brigades.
According to debriefing statements made to the FBI by a Cuban Intelligence officer who defected in 1983, the Venceremos Brigade was controlled by Cuban Intelligence officer Alfredo Garcia Almeida, chief of the North American Section of the Americas Department and former political counselor at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Despite this accusation, the organization as a whole has experienced little censure from U.S. authorities. However, the FBI has questioned individual travellers over the years. In 2010, at least 10 brigade participants were visited by FBI agents, but were left in peace when they declined to be interviewed.
A contingent of Latinos led by the Young Lords' Field Marshals David Rivera and Raul Lugo traveled from the Young Lords People's Church in Chicago in 1969.
- Venceremos Brigade research collection, DePaul University Special Collections and Archives
- Oglesby, Carl. Ravens in the Storm, Scribner, New York, 2008. pp. 223-
- Cuban Journal : A Poet in the Venceremos Brigade. 1970. ISBN 1-58195-015-2
- Sandy Lillydahl Venceremos Brigade Photograph Collection
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- "Venceremos Brigade to visit Guantánamo" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-06-12.
- Oglesby, Carl (2008). Ravens in the Storm. New York: Scribner. pp. 258–261. ISBN 1-4165-4736-3.
- Lekus, Ian Keith (2004-06-18). "Queer Harvests: Homosexuality, the U.S. New Left, and the Venceremos Brigades to Cuba". Radical History Review. 89 (1): 57–91. ISSN 1534-1453.
- Iyengar, K. (2015). THE VENCEREMOS BRIGADE: NORTH AMERICANS IN CUBA SINCE 1969. The International Journal of Cuban Studies, 7(2), 236-264,279. Via Proquest.
- Oglesby, Carl (2008). Ravens in the storm : a personal history of the 1960s antiwar movement. Scribner. p. 259. ISBN 1-4165-4736-3.
- Venceremos Brigade : young Americans sharing the life and work of revolutionary Cuba. Simon and Schuster. 1971. ISBN 0-671-20881-0.
- Venceremos Brigade : young Americans sharing the life and work of revolutionary Cuba. Simon and Schuster. 1971. p. 15.
- Debriefing of former Cuban Intelligence officer, Jesus Raul Perez-Mendez to FBI upon defection in 1983. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/espionage/Perez-Mendez-debriefing.pdf
- FBI Questions American Travelers to Cuba http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/30/travelers-to-cuba-are-bei_n_519215.html