Dear Colleague Letter on Freedom to Travel to Cuba-signed by 59 Reps!

Did you hear about Jay Z and Beyonce’s recent visit to Cuba to celebrate their 5 year wedding anniversary? Cuban American Republican congresspersons Ileana Ros-Lehtinin and Mario Diaz-Balart wrote to the US Treasury Department criticizing Beyonce’s and Jay Z’s visit and calling for an investigation of the super star couple’s trip to Cuba.

Are you tired of a small minority of Cuban-American congressperons holding us all hostage when it come to US policy towards Cuba? President Obama has made some forward strides to loosen travel to Cuba but we have much further to go. Rep Sam Farr (CA) has authored a Dear Colleague letter addressed to President Obama asking the President to use his excecutive authority to grant general licenses for ALL purposeful travel to Cuba.

Continue reading

Bird-Dog the New Congress! Take a look at our “How To” guide.

Bird-Dog Your Representatives

Bird-dog (bûrd’-dôg), v. To follow, monitor and/or seek out a subject of interest, such as a public official, with persistent attention to get answers to questions or influence the subject.

Bird-dogging is a tactic that many organizations, and concerned citizens, use to pressure public officialsto take a public stance on an issue, or to question a stance that a candidate has already taken.It usually consists of one or more bird-doggers who go to a public event where a public official will appear. The bird-doggers ask the candidate pointed questions about issues they care about in order to elicit a response. Because members of the media often attend candidate events, bird-dogging plays an important role in getting candidates’ positions “on record.” This is a vital part of holding politicians accountable to their constituents after the elections.

The highest office in America is at stake. Now is the time to ask the candidates what they are going to do about the issues we care about.

Tips for Successful Bird-Dogging

• Know where they stand. Before you bird-dog, check for the latest information about the candidates. Have they taken a stance on the issue? The more you know about where the candidate stands the more specific your question can be. To find out their voting record on certain issues go to

• Be assertive. Candidates have very busy schedules and may only take a few questions from audiences during public appearances. In order to be heard, be sure to get in line or raise your hand immediately when it’s time for questions. You also don’t have to wait for public speeches or town hall events. Try for a quick question during a meet-and-greet session or other public appearances.

• Be polite. Most candidates will not take rude people or questions seriously.

• Be direct. Don’t give a long explanation of your question. While you will want to set up your question, the goal of bird-dogging is to force a candidate to respond to an important issue on the record.

• End with a very specific question. Politicians love avoiding difficult issues, so make sure to ask a clear and specific question to ensure that they address the issue you are interested in. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no answer. If you feel like your question was not answered, politely ask it again. Here are some sample questions:


It is estimated that lifting the travel ban on Cuba could create as many as 20,000 new jobs and over 1 billion in revenue for the U.S, and that two-thirds of all Americans including Cuban Americans support lifting the travel ban on Cuba. Will you support efforts in congress to lift the Cuba travel ban and work to normalize relations with our island neighbor?


It is estimated over 600,000 U.S jobs were lost after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement while two-thirds of all undocumented migrants in the U.S today came as a result of NAFTA. In the last 2 years during one of our worst recessions the US congress passed 3 more NAFTA style free trade deals. Now a new trade deal is proposed under the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement including 8 pacific rim countries. How will you vote on this next new free trade deal and will you work to re-negotiate the trade agreements we already have?

Drug War:

This year alone the U.S will spend 52 billion on the War on Drugs, mostly on military aid to corrupt foreign governments like Mexico and Colombia and on incarcerating drug addicts here in the U.S. With this strategy we have only seen more drugs on our streets, more drug cartel violence and more people in prison. While 20 million Americans needed drug treatment last year and never received it.  In the next congress will you work to shift Drug War spending away from corrupt foreign militaries and domestic prisons and spend more money on curtailing the demand side of drug abuse by providing community services, drug treatment and de-crimilization of drug addiction?

Work in teams of two or more people and disperse. Bird-dogging can sometimes make people nervous so it’s best to go in teams of two or more for support. Also, if you have two people in a team, one can ask the question while another writes down the response. It’s best if you can get the candidate’s response on camera, but either way, get an accurate quote of what was said so you can pass the information on. The website is a good place to post candidate responses.

When you ask a question, be prepared with a follow up question – you might just get the opportunity to ask it. And, this way if someone else asks your question you’ll have a backup. If you have a group of people at the event, split them up. Dispersing at the event might allow everyone in the group to ask a question.

Keep it cordial. You are likely to get more of a response from candidates, and make a positive impression on the media, if you are calm and respectful in your demeanor. Hardly anyone is 100 percent opposed to your views, so try and come up with a compliment on a candidate’s position that you can mention before you ask your question.

For a list of congressional races and how much money they have raised go

To find out who contributes to their campaigns go to

For Bird-dogging help contact or call (805) 421-9708.

Past Highlights and Pictures

Highlights and Accomplishments

Southwest Region Witness for Peace

Moving Congress: In theSouthwest region secured 6 of 87 congressional signers on a Dear Colleague letter condemning human rights abuses in Honduras. On the Colombia Free Trade Agreement 4 congresspersons were swayed to vote NO through Southwest region efforts in October. WFPSW rallies were held at 3 Southern California undecided congressional offices a day before the free trade votes. 2 of the 3 reps voted against the free trade agreements the next day. Through grassroots pressure, this December Rep. Berman CA-28, ranking Democrat in the House Foreign Relations committee sent a public letter to Secretary Clinton questioning US funding of state sponsored repression in Honduras. This next year we will be bird-dogging congress during election campaigns to make sure they address the failed Drug War, Honduras human rights violations, the Cuban Embargo and immigration reform. (pictured WFPSW members at Rep. Henry Waxman’s office)

Honduras– The Southwest Region joined protests at the Honduran Consulate in the spring when there was a brutal military/police crack down on teacher/students protests that lead to the death of elementary school teacher Ilse Ivania Velásquez Rodríguez. In March the Southwest region hosted Gerardo Torres, leader of the Honduran Resistance Front, for several speaking events in Southern California. In September the Southwest region sent a nine-person delegation to Honduras that visited the campesino movements of the Aguan Valley, 4 political prisoners, served as international observers for the Sept 15 Resistance marches and met with the brand new US Ambassador to Honduras. The Southwest hosted Afro-Honduran Garifuna Doctor Luther Castillo for a workshop on Honduras at the School of the Americas vigil in Ft. Benning, Georgia. The Southwest continues to be an active member of the Honduras Solidarity Network. In 2012 we plan to send more protective accompaniment delegations to Honduras, push for more cuts in US funding and get a Dear Colleague letter circulating in the Senate.(pictured: delegate Sara Kohgadai with former Honduran President Mel Zelaya.)

Trade- Three free trade agreements came to a vote  for Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The Southwest held face to face meetings with several congressional offices in the spring in which reps committed to vote against the FTAs. During the final votes many reps spoke out strongly against the FTAs on the floor of the Senate and House. In the end 80% of House Democrats voted against the Colombia FTA and most significantly against a specific ask by President Obama to pass the trade agreements. In 2012 election season we will be holding reps accountable for their votes on the FTAs and will push for more congressional co-sponsors for the Trade Act, a bill that will stop any new FTAs and renegotiate all current FTAs. (pictured: rally at Rep. Karen Bass’ office. She voted against all 3 FTAs)

Colombia- In the Spring the Southwest hosted events for the Days and Prayer and Action on Colombia, in July we sent an accompaniment delegation to the humanitarian peace communities of Uraba, Colombia and in the fall we lobbied against the Colombia FTA and hosted Jani Silva, campesina leader from Putumayo, Colombia on a speaking tour that reached over 1000 people. In 2012 we will send protective accompaniment delegations to Uraba, Colombia and continue to raise awareness in the US of the failed drug war model. (pictured Southwest delegates in Uraba, Colombia)

Migrant Rights- In January we hosted the first domestic delegation on immigration and migrant rights in Ventura County, California. We co-sponsored multiple migrant rights forums and participated in campaigns to stop ICE’s Secure Communities Program. In the summer the Southwest sent volunteers to deliver water and humanitarian aid at the Arizona/Mexico border with the human rights group No More Deaths. In 2012 we will return to volunteer on the border, flight for an end to ICE’s S-COMM program and participate in migrant rights forums and Know Your Rights Trainings. (pictured: volunteers with No More Deaths take a break in the Arizona/Mexico desert.)

Cuba– the Southwest has participated in the efforts to protect Cuban family travel. Hardline Cuban Americans in congress twice this year have tried to roll back travel for Cuban Americans to Bush era policy. In December the Southwest sent 28 delegates to Cuba ranging from ages 24-76 and representing 18 states. This coming year we will support the campaign to Free the Cuban Five, organize delegations to Cuba and lobby to end the travel ban and embargo on Cuba. (pictured: International Workers Day march in Havana, Cuba)

Delegations– The Southwest sponsored 4 delegations to Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and Ventura County, CA. A total of 55

delegates participated and the Southwest Region awarded $3,175 in delegation scholarship assistance. In 2012 we have delegations planned for Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and domestic California and Arizona delegations on migrant rights. We also will be facilitating more short term and long term volunteer accompaniment teams in Uraba, Colombia and the Aguan Valley of Honduras. (pictured: Southwest region’s first domestic delegation focused on farmworkers and migrant rights in California.)

Cuba Webinar-“From Che to Fidel: Building Bridges with 21st Century Cuba”

Click here to download a recording of Daisy Rojas presentation: cuba webinar recording.mp3

Click HERE to view Daisy’s powerpoint 

Witness for Peace Northwest and Southwest Region were thrilled to host this webinar with Daisy Rojas, a Cuban social justice activist and organizer who is a founding member of the Martin Luther King Jr Center in Havana.

Daisy  traveled throughout Washington and Oregon in October speaking about what daily life is like as a Cuban citizen under the U.S. economic embargo and travel ban. Daisy spoke about what steps we can take in the U.S. to act in solidarity with Cuba.  Her work with the MLK Center includes popular education in the Freire model, organizing with communities of faith, and solidarity work with international delegations. Continue reading


U.S. and Central America – part 2 – interview with Tanya Cole on Dec. 17, 2010

Part 2 of interview with Tanya Cole, Witness for Peace Southwest District organizer, and Cindy Piester of Pulse TV. Discuss the history of U.S. involvement in Central America and migration and immigration.


Tanya Cole: The Brutal Face of U.S. Latin America Policy – Then & Now

Tanya Cole, Witness for Peace Southwest District organizer, and Cindy Piester of Pulse TV discuss the ongoing brutal history of U.S. involvement in Latin America.

Refresh yourself on the CIA’s role of replacing democratically elected Latin governments after overthrowing them, and the brutal campaigns of repression that followed.

Grim history in broad strokes. An update in current ways and means of the U.S. governments continued efforts to control through violence.

VENTURA COUNTY STAR: Oxnard teachers hope to raise funds to visit Cuba

By Mark Storer

Francisco Romero has traveled extensively throughout Latin America. From Mexico to Venezuela and from Nicaragua to Honduras, the 34-year old Oxnard teacher has looked to ways to enhance his own understanding of Latin American culture and education.

But at an early spring conference, a chance meeting with Tanya Cole, a Southern California regional organizer for the Washington D.C. based political action group Witness for Peace, gave Romero an unexpected opportunity.

“I was reading a pamphlet about a chance to be part of a delegation of educators to Cuba,” said Romero who is single and teaches special education resource classes at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard. “I was really excited by the opportunity.”

Romero and his sister, Alma, 30, an English language arts teacher at Haydock, will arrive in Cuba on July 19 as part of a delegation of 37 educators from across the United States being sponsored by Witness for Peace They will return home July 29.

Witness for Peace is underwriting most of the trip, but there the Romeros are still in need of funds to pay travel expenses.

“We need to raise about a thousand dollars,” said Romero. “We’ve got $200 of that already, but that’s why we’re holding the fundraiser.”

The fundraiser is a concert and art exhibition to be held Sunday at 6 p.m. at Café on A in Oxnard and will feature music by the band Caliente as well as art work from area artists, Andrea Vargas Mendoza, Louie Moreno and Rolando!

National Public Radio affiliate KPFK’s Miguel Paredes, host of “Soul Rebel Radio” will present a slide show with pictures from Cuba where he has traveled. There will also be Cuban food and beverages available.

“The Cuban government provides universal education to all its citizens from pre-kindergarten on up,” Cole said. “This trip is a way for educators to go and learn about a new model and way of doing things.” Cole said that Witness for Peace has been advocating a change in U.S. perceptions of Cuba. “We think the embargo needs to be lifted against Cuba, and with the recent lifting of the travel ban to the island, we think the embargo can eventually crumble.”

Cole has traveled to Cuba numerous times and said that U.S. perceptions are not necessarily reality. “We have no diplomatic relations with Cuba, and it is a failed policy,” she said. “There’s been a lot of opening up of the island recently.”

Still, Amnesty International released an announcement on June 9 that while Cuba had accepted “some” of the United Nation’s suggestions on enhancing human rights, the organization was frustrated that the Cuban government still would not allow Cuban citizens to travel freely where they wished and did not provide fair and speedy trials within their justice system.

“I definitely want to get first hand knowledge of the system,” said Romero. “I want to know what the political and social realities are under the Cuban system.”

Romero said he wants to focus particularly on teaching methodologies in the island nation and focus on their learning disabled population. “I’m very concerned with some of our dropout rates here at home,” Romero said. “A very high number of our students right here in Oxnard drop out of school, and that number goes higher in the learning disabled population. I want to see how Cuba deals with that. The literacy rate in Cuba is something like 90 percent and that fascinates me. I’m anxious to talk to people there on the island and get a first hand look at how this is done and how they work there.”