Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 06:08:05 -0600
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Via Workers World News Service
Cuba caravan resists gov't repression
By Andy McInerney, Workers World, 22 February 1996
The confrontation between the U.S. government and activists opposed to the U.S. blockade of Cuba is sharpening. On Feb. 7, federal police served the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization-Pastors for Peace with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury in Buffalo, N.Y.
IFCO-Pastors for Peace has been one of the main activist groups in the United States working to end the 35-year-old U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. They have organized five "friendshipments" of humanitarian aid to Cuba, which have included school supplies, medicine and computers.
These humanitarian shipments have directly challenged U.S. policy, which regards such aid as "trading with the enemy." The blockade forbids Cuba from buying food, medicine, or any other goods from the United States.
The federal subpoena came just a week after the latest and most serious clash between aid caravans and the government.
On Jan. 31, federal border guards and San Diego police officers brutally attacked a Pastors for Peace caravan as the caravanistas tried to take their shipment of aid across the United States-Mexico border. Seventeen people, including Pastors for Peace leader the Rev. Lucius Walker, were arrested, then released.
The caravan was carrying computers and other resources for "Infomed," a medical-information network for Cuban medical facilities to connect hospitals, clinics and rural health centers to an on-line network. U.S. border agents seized the 325 computers destined for the Infomed project.
The subpoena demands all records of the fourth and fifth "friendshipments," which took place in November 1994 and July 1995. Information about the participants in the caravans and solidarity organizations in Canada is included in the subpoena's demands.
Richard Becker of the International Peace for Cuba Appeal called the grand jury subpoena a "fishing trip."
"The U.S. government is using the grand jury system as a tool to pry into the legal activities of progressive organizations," Becker said. "This is an attack not just on the growing Cuba solidarity movement, but on the whole progressive movement."
Should IFCO leaders refuse to turn over information about the caravans, they could be held in contempt and subject to imprisonment.
Walker, the executive director of IFCO, said the intensifying government harassment will not stop his organization from challenging the blockade. "We will continue our shipments of medical aid as long as the U.S. continues to withhold food and medicine from the Cuban people," he said.
In fact, activists are planning another challenge of the blockade on Feb. 17. IFCO organizers have been working with other groups for the two weeks since the arrests at the border, building support and materials for a second crossing.
"Pastors, teachers and health-care providers have been calling us with support," Walker noted. "Together we're joining the rest of the world in a show of unified opposition to an unjust policy."
The main focus of activity will be in San Diego, the site of the original attempted crossing. But there will also be a simultaneous crossing in Vermont.
Activists on the East Coast will bring computer modems across the U.S.-Canada border, where they will join the Quebec solidarity group Caravane d'Amitie Quebec-Cuba to ship medical aid to Cuba.
People in other cities will also show solidarity with the caravans. Activists in Washington have announced plans to protest the blockade at the Treasury Department Feb. 16.
The National Network on Cuba, an umbrella group of several Cuba solidarity organizations, has voted unanimously to make support for IFCO-Pastors for Peace a priority. Member organizations pledge to hold solidarity activities on Feb. 16-17 in support of the second attempt to cross the border.
Activists in the Cuba solidarity movement are looking at the new battles as an opportunity to widen opposition to the U.S. blockade. "Since the first challenge to the embargo we have been seeking the situation where we can change this policy," IFCO said in a statement. "This is the moment we have been waiting for."
Readers can contact Pastors for Peace at (612) 870-7121 and IFCO at (212) 926-5757.
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