Florida sends bus full of aid to Cuba
Jenny Brown
July/August 1999

After watching for 78 days as the U.S. rained down bombs in our names, destroying much of Yugoslavia and Kosovo, it was a relief to be reminded what international solidarity really looks like. A big bus, filled to the windows with aid, came through Gainesville on its way to Cuba in May. The bus and its contents were all donated by Floridians as part of the Pastors for Peace's ninth Friendshipment of aid to Cuba.

In addition to the aid on the inside, the bus also carried a message of international friendship and good wishes on the outside. It arrived in Gainesville unadorned, but thanks to local artist Arturo Escamilla (and enthusiastic helpers) the bus left Gainesville with an unmistakable message that most American people don't agree with our leaders war policies, nor to we support the economic strangulation of our neighbors through embargoes and blockades.

This a message the Pastors of Peace and the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing (IFCO) have been carrying to Cuba for many years. The Friendshipments are organized not just to provide aid to Cuba, but as civil disobedience against the U.S. blockade. Some of the Friendshipments have been stopped by U.S. treasury police as they travel into Mexico to place the aid on a ship bound for Cuba. U.S. law states that ships are not allowed to travel to Cuba from the U.S. According to U.S. laws, any ship of any nationality that has been to Cuba in the previous several months cannot enter a U.S. port.

On one Friendshipment, the U.S. customs impounded all the aid including a school bus. Caravan members refused to leave the bus and went on hunger strike right there in the impoundment lot in Texas. The hunger strike, and the national and international outrage it generated, finally forced the U.S. to release the aid.

So there was some concern whether the Friendshipment would be again stopped at the border. This time, when the caravan of vehicles arrived at the McAllen, Texas border crossing, the 83 caravanistas were threatened with a $55,000 fine each. They voted unanimously to continue in the face of this threat.

Embargoes and blockades, which are supposed to bring 'peaceful' pressure on governments the U.S. government doesn't like, have in fact been a deadly weapon of U.S. foreign policy. The embargo of Iraq, in place since the Gulf War, has prevented Iraq from buying materials and tools to rebuild its bombed infrastructure, including water treatment facilities, hospitals and electrical systems.

In March the UN Security Council panel on the humanitarian situation in Iraq reported that "the gravity of the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people is indisputable and cannot be overstated." Iraq had "experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty" and that, in "marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to 1990-91 [before sanctions], the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world ... chronic malnutrition affects every fourth child under five."

Colin Rowat, a Cambridge professor who is coordinator of the British Campaign against Sanctions on Iraq pointed out in June that UNICEF said "Iraqi hospitals were experiencing 90,000 more deaths a year (including 40,000 children under five) than they had before sanctions (an underestimate, they feared, as reported deaths terminate food rations)." Rowat continued, "... Iraq's quiet deaths have been going on for almost nine years."

In the last weeks, President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright have stated that no aid will go to Yugoslavia that might help that country, after more than two months of bombing, rebuild its electricity, water and transportation systems. That doesn't count as humanitarian, Clinton stated, only food and medicine are humanitarian. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan responded June 30 that it doesn't do any good to send in tons of medicine if people are drinking contaminated water and getting sick from that.

But sanctions and economic pressures from the U.S. are familiar to Yugoslavians of all ethnic groups. It was a 1989 U.S. law that many argue started the breakup of Yugoslavia to begin with.

In a talk on May 16 at the University of Washington, Michael Parenti reviewed the history of "nonviolent" economic pressure from the U.S. against Yugoslavia:

"Yugoslavia was built on an idea, as [former Attorney General] Ramsey Clark said. Very few countries are actually built on an idea. The idea was that the southern Slavs would not remain a weak, divided people falling out among themselves or falling prey to some imperialist outsider. They would join together and they would have a territory that was large enough and strong enough to become a viable nation with its own development. And sure enough, after World War II, multi-ethnic, socialist Yugoslavia was a postwar industrial power, a viable nation and an economic success. Between 1960 and 1980, it had one of the most vigorous growth rates, a decent standard of living, free medical care and education, guaranteed right to a job, one month free vacation with pay, affordable transportation, housing and utilities, literacy rate over 90%, life expectancy was 72 years. Most of the economy was in the public, not-for-profit sector.

"... There was a conscious and deliberate plan to fragment and break up Yugoslavia. The other blow was in November of 1990, when President George Bush went to the U.S. Congress and pressured them to pass a foreign appropriations law that called for the cutting off of all aid and credits to Yugoslavia. Trading without credits can be disastrous, especially for a country that doesn't have a hard currency. This had a devastating effect on the country. The law also demanded that if any republic in Yugoslavia wanted further U.S. aid, it would have to break away from Yugoslavia and declare its independence. ... November 1990. The 1991 Foreign Appropriations Act. Its written right there. Go look at it. It required the U.S. State Department approval of election procedures and results in every one of the republics. It required that the republics do not hold national elections but hold elections only in their own republics, and that the aid would go individually to those republics. And when the aid did go, it went to those groups which the U.S. defined as "democratic," which meant small, right-wing, ultranationalist and even fascistic parties. The ultimate goal was to break up Yugoslavia into a weak and helpless cluster of right-wing banana republics, privatized, de-industrialized.

"The Western powers decided to destroy Yugoslavia in 1989, when it became evident that it was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system. It was the one country that was still trying for some kind of economic independence outside of the world global free market Third World-ization process. They wanted a Yugoslavia whose rich natural resources would be at the disposal of multinational corporations, whose populations would work at subsistence wages, whose economy offered no competition with existing capitalist producers, only new investment opportunities. They wanted a Yugoslavia whose petroleum, engineering, mining and automotive industries would be undone and de-industrialized, and they wanted to abolish Yugoslavia's public sector services and social programs.

"Do you think U.S. policymakers are motivated by some need to abolish the social programs, the public sector services, in Yugoslavia? Why would they want to do that? Do you think they are such nefarious, evil individuals that they would want to abolish their social programs? Come on, Parenti, are you being paranoid? Well, why would they want to abolish our social programs? As they have been doing. Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Privatizing Social Security. That's what that President in Washington is doing. At least a third of it, he's going to chunk it off and privatize it right under your noses while saying he's saving and preserving Social Security. Public health services, public education, environmental regulation, as inadequate as all of these things have been, they're being cut back. Library services. We used to have that service. Sorry, we don't have enough funds any more. Not enough funds because we build those missiles.

"In 1992, another blow was delivered against what remained of Yugoslavia. International sanctions led by the U.S.: A freeze was imposed on all trade with Yugoslavia. The results brought utter economic disaster, hyperinflation, mass unemployment, up to 70%, malnourishment, the collapse of the health care system at great cost to the population. ... The civilian population does not suffer collateral damage or incidental spinoff from sanctions. The civilian population is the primary target of sanctions. That's who's being targeted.

" ...When things start going bad, when you've got sanctions, when you've got the loss of trade credits, you've got 70% unemployment, when things are beginning to unravel and get desperate, that's when people begin to want to jump ship. And when you've got a U.S. national security state backing the most divisive, fascistic, militant elements, with fascist organizations arising in Yugoslavia that hadn't been seen in forty-five years, armed with guns and money and organization and hired thugs and operating with the blatant assurance that they had the whole might of the U.S. to their backs, that's when the divisions come. You've got a U.S. government that is actually pushing for civil war.

"The outcome is that in Croatia you now have the Republic of Croatia, with President Tudjman, a Nazi sympathizer, who wrote a book saying the Holocaust wasn't all that bad and most of it never really happened, whose flag is the checkered Ustashi flag, which were Nazi collaborators in World War II, whose army salutes with a straight-arm Nazi salutes today, who suppressed the more liberal Croatian groups that wanted a more conciliatory policy with the Serbs, who presided over the forced evacuation of 600,000 Serbs from Croatia between 1991 and 1995. I don't see the media or the White House giving much indignant play to that one.

"Tudjman, who lives in obscene wealth along with his cronies, while the people of Croatia now wallow in economic misery. In Croatia it's five years in prison if you criticize the President. But I don't hear Clinton talking about the need to bomb Croatia back into democracy.

"Then there's Bosnia, where the U.S. has supported the Muslim fundamentalist Alija Izetbegovic, who was with the Waffen-SA when he was younger. A Nazi--not a collaborator, not a sympathizer--but an active Nazi who today now is the President of Bosnia, hailed as a democratic leader, who wants to establish a religious Islamic republic in Bosnia. He suppressed more liberal Muslim leaders. Bosnia is now under IMF and NATO regency. Its not permitted to mobilize and develop its own internal resources. It's not allowed to extend credit or sell finance to an independent monetary system. Its state-owned assets, including energy, water, telecommunications, media and transportation, are all being sold off to private corporate investors at garage-sale prices. And the Serbian part of Bosnia, which just last year democratically elected a President who was against the free market reforms, was removed forcibly by NATO troops because he was thought to be a hard-liner, the code word used there.

A tape of Michael Parenti's complete talk is available on audiotape for check out at the Civic Media Center. It was recorded and broadcast by Alternative Radio, P.O. Box 551 Boulder, CO 80306 (800) 444-1977 E-mail: ar@orci.com.

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