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A message from Sharon

January 30th, 2012

I have no doubt that WFP delegates are capable of changing the face of U.S. policy towards Latin America. When delegates hear inspiring testimonies from our allies on the ground in Latin America and see for themselves the impact of detrimental policies they are motivated to advocate for policy changes. However, it’s not every day that you see direct evidence of the power of our delegations.

This fall I was thrilled to have the opportunity to accompany WFP’s first two people-to-people licensed delegations to Cuba. As many of you know, over the summer Witness for Peace was granted a license that enabled us to expand our Cuba delegations program to all applicants, regardless of profession.

Since then, WFP delegations to Cuba have been highlighted in USA Today, the Miami Herald, and Travel Weekly. Hundreds of people from across the country have already applied to join our delegations, and for the first time in six years WFP has been able to place a fulltime staff member on the ground in Havana.

In November, our delegations focused on contemporary law and sustainable agriculture, both useful lenses through which to explore the impact of the U.S. embargo and travel ban on life in Cuba. For example, the sustainable agriculture
delegation worked in the fields and spoke to Cuban farmers about how the embargo impacts food production. WFP delegates also met with Cuban groups excited to share organic agriculture techniques, show off their fish farms, and demonstrate the proliferation of urban, roof top gardens.

"Overall it was one of the best experiences of my life,” said one delegate. “I had tears in my eyes when I left.”

Obviously, feedback like that is very touching to those of us who organize and run WFP delegations. However, seeing these recent delegates spring to action in the name of justice is the reason I’ve been with WFP for over 20 years.

Just days after we left Cuba, House Republicans moved to pass a bill that would significantly roll back the clock when it comes to Cuba travel rights. The language would have limited remittances and prevented Cuban Americans from visiting their relatives more than once every three years. Within the bat of an eye, hundreds of
former delegates and other grassroots activists had called President Obama to
petition against the punitive bill.

I’m happy to report that we were victorious! Together, we held our President  accountable to his promise to veto legislation that imposed limits on Cuban-Americans’ right to travel to visit their families.

Clearly, there’s still a lot of work left to do. However, with our delegations program as a strong training ground and a source of inspiration to thousands of activists, we know we’re on the right track.

In solidarity,

Sharon Hostetler
Executive Director