Pastors for Peace Caravan Challenges

Cuba Blockade for Fourteenth Time

by Dan Bacher

Dissident Voice

August 12, 2003


The 110 people, 10 vehicles and 80 tons of humanitarian aid in this July’ challenge to the US government's unjust blockade on Cuba were waved though the border checkpoint at McCallen, Texas by government officials without barely a word.


“This is a testament to the power of the thousands of people committed to this movement, the international grassroots support, and the tireless dedication of so many,” said Taleigh Smith, Program Coordinator of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing (IFCO) Pastors for Peace. “Our work has not ended until the blockade has been broken.”


Not only did the group successfully deliver humanitarian aid to Cuba, but the caravanistas on July 29 returned across the US- Mexico border carrying dozens of cases of products manufactured in Cuba. The caravan carried the Cuban-made aid as a challenge to the US blockade which prohibits normal trade between US and Cuba.


Boxes containing coffee, honey and bee pollen products were opened and displayed to US Customs officials at the border in Hildalgo, Texas at 9:00 AM this morning. According to Rev. Lucius Walker, IFCO Executive Director, the products will be donated to community organizations across the US and used as part of a campaign to raise public awareness about Cuba's productivity.


"These donations are a gift from the people of Cuba to the people of the United States, as a symbol of good will and friendship. We encouraged and invited Custom officials to inspect the boxes, but they declined to do so,” said Walker at a press conference at the border.


The challenge was the return leg of an effort which delivered humanitarian aid to Cuban schools, churches, hospitals, and senior centers and other facilities.


The Birthing Project, Central America Action Committee and Grandmothers for Peace welcomed representatives of the Pastors for Peace 14th Annual Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba to Sacramento on Saturday, July 5 at the Bethany Prebysterian Church.


A program held after the potluck featured poetry and caravan speakers, including Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five and president of the Typographical Sector/No. California Media Workers Union Local 39521, CWA.


La Riva said the caravan was very critical at this time in history, since Bush has taken an increasingly aggressive stance towards Cuba, including a ban on cultural workers and journalists traveling to Cuba.


“There is a huge desire among people in the U.S. to go to Cuba out of curiosity, particularly because of the positive social developments that have occurred since the revolution,” noted La Riva. “However, President Bush has imposed a ban on cultural exchange between the U.S. and Cuba. Because of this, Global Exchange has been forced to cancel its trips to Cuba.”


Becky of the Birthing Project, Sacramento’s representative on the caravan this July, was on the caravan last year and spoke about her experiences in Cuba.


“The people in Cuba are very well connected, with a strong sense of community,” she said. “It was a real shock to me, since I had just graduated from Sacramento High School and it was my first time out of the country. I learned a whole lot about how their government worked and I really loved their medical school. I became more interested in Cuba and wanted to definitely go back this year. It was an enlightening experience.”


Starting July 1, volunteers began traveling 10 separate routes across the United States, stopping at 115 cities to pick-up the 80 tons of humanitarian aid before converging on McAllen. The Birthing Project in Sacramento collected medicines for the Cuban people, while other caravanistas also  sent computers, medical equipment, ambulances and buses.


Pastors for Peace is also organizing a Fall Caravan to Chiapas, Honduras & Nicaragua, according to Taleigh Smith.


“We are living in an age when resistance cannot be limited within national borders,” she said. “Cuba is leading the way in hemispheric resistance to the US government and transnational corporations' quest for international dominance and exploitation. Chiapas is in the heart of the struggle between Free Trade dogma and a community's right to self-determinism, traditional medicine and collective land ownership, and the end of racist, classist oppression.”


In Honduras and Nicaragua, the open military intervention of the eighties ended only after the road was paved for international corporate invasion and exploitation, according to Smith.


Smith urged activists to join IFCO/Pastors for Peace in Miami November 18-21 as part of the hemisphere-wide protests of the Trade Ministerial Meetings where hand-picked “trade advisors” negotiate the future of millions behind locked gates and with zero public accountability.


“We'll then travel to Texas where we'll here the true story of border before heading south to hear about the impacts of free trade first-hand from our brothers and sisters in Chiapas, Honduras and Nicaragua,” she explained.


Under the banner, "Free Education, not Free Trade,” the organization will be especially outreaching to students along the route.


For more information, contact, Taleigh Smith, Program Coordinator, Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing (IFCO), Pastors for Peace, 402 West 145th Street, New York, NY  10031, 212-926-5757 fax: 212-926-5842, www.ifconews.org, taleigh@igc.org


Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: danielbacher@hotmail.com


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