No hitch at border for 7th US-Cuba Friendshipment
Joe Courter
May/June 1997

On May 6th, the U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment made a stop in Gainesville. Those who attended the welcoming event at the Civic Media Center helped load one rented truck, but the key to the Friendshipments is the broad, international organizing that IFCO (the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing) and Pastors for Peace has kicked into gear for each of the seven Friendshipments so far. Thirteen hundred volunteers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany participated, there were 15 different routes in the U.S., stops in 100 cities where many thousands of individuals gathered to bring their donation and talk about fighting back against the embargo on Cuba with the strongest weapon--love, commitment, and outrage against the U.S. policy which would punish the citizens of Cuba because Washington fears their choice of socialism.

In Buffalo, NY on May 14, the caravan gathered with 400 tons of aid. A three-block long line of trucks, busses, and cars rolled into Canada and towards Montreal for ocean shipping to Cuba.

And then on May 16 in San Ysidro, CA, another 100 tons of aid rolled through on the way to a ship in Tampico, Mexico. Sophisticated medical equipment, high-level computers, and prescription medicines, all items the U.S. would like to keep from Cuba, were on their way.

This victory for Friendshipment Seven followed hours of meetings with U.S. government officials, in which Pastors for Peace provided lists of all the items going, including many items on the Treasury Department's embargoed list. Pastors for Peace refuses to get a license from the U.S. government for the aid, because that would recognize the embargo as legal and legitimate. Also, much of the aid would still be banned. Nonetheless, all the aid was allowed across the border.

Last year's Friendshipment was stopped at the San Diego border with physical assault upon the caravan by U.S. Customs and Treasury agents, sparking a 94-day fast by Rev. Lucius Walker and four others after 435 medical computers were seized. Eventually the U.S. backed down, and all the aid, including all the computers, went on to Cuba.

Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, attributed the May victory in part to the success of last year's campaign to free the computers. "Perhaps our government came to understand the depth and seriousness of our commitment, and decided not to engage us in another long struggle. Perhaps the strong advocacy of 70 members of Congress, nine national religious agencies, and many thousands of US citizens, has forced a slight liberalization in the enforcement of the blockade. But we remain concerned, and much work remains to be done.

"The US continues to enforce a tight international blockade on the sale and trade of most essential goods to Cuba--even the most basic goods. Our government tries to deny this, by publicly suggesting that there are no sanctions on food and medicines. But the American Association for World Health has documented the precise effects of the so-called "Cuban Democracy Act" on the health and nutrition of the Cuban people, and we have seen those effects with our own eyes. We refuse to be complicit with a policy of death and starvation. We need to stop putting a pretty face on this brutal blockade--to admit that Cuban children are being denied access to lifesaving medicines because of our government's policies... We will keep working until Helms/Burton, and Torricelli, and the whole blockade are overturned. Our major objective is to do everything possible to awaken the conscience of this nation to the need to end this policy of death."

The only hassles the Caravan received were in California as the Caravan left a church for its trip to the border. According to Pastors, "Eight members of the right-wing Cuban-American terrorist organization Alpha-66, which describes itself as 'a commando military' group, rammed caravan vehicles with their cars, jumped on vehicles, hurled eggs and insults, and assaulted members of the caravan." They even attacked an ambulance that is being donated to a children's hospital and a truck donated and driven by members of the Garberville, CA Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6354. No vehicles were damaged enough to keep them from going on, and no-one was seriously injured.

Did you hear any press reports about this whole Pastors for Peace effort? Did you see a picture of the huge line of vehicles rolling across the border? Did you hear about the assaults? No, you probably heard about a small flotilla of right-wing Cuban expatriates who went from South Florida to Cuban waters, attempting to incite an insurrection in Cuba.

We'll see if the Havana Cup, a yacht race with hundreds of entries which will sail aid to Cuba from Tampa starting May 23, gets on the news.

In Gainesville, we will host a presentation by one of the Florida Caravan drivers, Michael Canney, about the border crossing in Buffalo in the coming weeks, probably June 24 or 25.

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