It was spring 1996 and US Rep Esteban Torres told WCVI President Antonio Gonzalez "we have to do something" to respond to the recently enacted Helms-Burton Act, a draconian US law tightening the US blockade of Cuba. As a result, Torres (a WCVI Board Member), Cuban American activist-businessman Joe Perez (also a WCVI Board Member) and Gonzalez began a plan of action that ultimately laid the foundation for restoring diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.
Their plan was simple: help lots of Americans visit Cuba. Torres for his part began regular legal travel to Cuba with members of the US Congress. "ET" as he was called by his friends took then Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus US Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, CA to Cuba in 1996 and dozens of other members of Congress subsequently until his retirement in 1999. ET also introduced the first bill to end the US embargo of Cuba!
IMI initiated a regular travel program to Cuba as soon as Clinton promulgated new federal regulations permitting travel of regular US Citizens beginning in 1999 thru the present. IMI over the years has taken hundreds of US Latino leaders on legal educational trips to Cuba.
IMI also conducted survey research on US Latino opinion on Cuba policy, and launched Latinos Against the Embargo of Cuba to agitate against US Cuba policy.
Most importantly was the audacious move by Joe Perez to launch a charter airline called Cuba Travel Services (CTS) in 1999. Thru 2016 (when Obama authorized commercial flights to Cuba effectively ending charter services) CTS grew to be the largest air service to Cuba taking literally hundreds of thousands of Americans legally to Cuba thru some 25 flights per week at its height from Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Tampa, New Orleans, and Dallas.
During 1999 to 2014 this simple idea (enacted by CTS and several other "charteadores"): expose Americans to Cuba; caused a sea change in US opinion, first flipping mainstream American opinion to a position of opposition to the embargo and to travel restrictions on Americans, then reversing Cuban American opinion in Florida.
By 2012 there was no dissent in US opinion across all ethnic groups and regions, Americans and Cuban Americans wanted normal relations with Cuba.
With infamous south Florida Cuban American opposition neutralized, on December 17, 2014 President Obama made history by restoring US diplomatic relations with Cuba!
Obama also removed Cuba from the US list of terrorist countries (an action that was always ridiculous on its face), loosened restrictions on certain trade with and travel to Cuba and authorized commercial flights to Cuba. The US and Cuba also simultaneously released political prisoners: Cuba released Alan Gross and the US released the last of the "Cuban Five" (Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino)
Among national Latino organizations WCVI was alone in its unwavering support for normalizing US-Cuba relations during the 1996-2014 period!
read about the WCVI Cuba Program 2017