Seventh U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment breaks the blockade
By Eileen Reardon, People's Weekly World, 24 May 1997
BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Eastern segment of the seventh Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba, loaded with 400 tons of humanitarian aid for Cuban children, successfully crossed the International Peace Bridge into Canada May 14 without interference from U.S. officials.
Another 100 tons in the Western segment of the caravan crossed into Mexico on the same day at the San Ysidro border checkpoint south of San Diego.
Calling this a "tremendous victory," Corrine Kohut, Pastors for Peace national co-coordinator, said this is especially significant because this Friendshipment included specialized pediatric medicines and high-powered Pentium computers - both on the U.S. list of items forbidden to be exported to Cuba.
The aid will be delivered by 155 caravanistas who will travel to Cuba. An ecumenical committee of Cuban clergy will receive the aid and distribute it according to the most pressing need.
As a protest against the 37-year U.S.-imposed blockade against Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act which tightens the blockade, Pastors for Peace refuses to apply for a U.S. Treasury license for exporting items to Cuba. In previous caravans U.S. officials impounded vehicles and confiscated computers.
Speaking at a victory picnic in Fort Erie, Canada, the Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of Pastors for Peace, said U.S. officials realize the "groundswell of opposition to the U.S. blockade of Cuba. We represent the majority will of the U.S." he said. "The U.S. knows we will allow nothing to prevent us from expressing our solidarity with Cuba."
He was referring to the 1996 caravan when the U.S. confiscated 400 computers bound for Cuba at the California/Mexican border and five members of the caravan went on a 94-day fast. This resulted in a national and international campaign and the release of the computers.
Walker urged churches and labor unions to send aid to Cuba without applying for licenses. Echoing the sentiments of those at the picnic, Rev. Walker said, "We have the power to end the blockade ... we will fight the U.S. government and we will win ... we have only just begun to fight."
One of the other speakers at the picnic was Ron Boyer from the Canadian Auto Workers, Local 199 in St. Catherines, Ontario, who brought a message of support from his union.
What is unique about this caravan is that it is dedicated to the children of Cuba. As Rev. Walker said at a service the night before the border crossing, "We are standing in solidarity with Cuba and her commitment to her children, as evidenced by free universal health care and free education through the university level there."
He also said that despite this difficult time of shortages, because of the blockade, no one will see a homeless child, a shoeless child or a child with a bloated belly in Cuba.
The caravan of 50 vehicles traveled along the East Coast to Buffalo, stopping in cities along the way to pick up donated supplies. It traveled to Montreal where the aid was loaded onto ships by longshoremen who donated their labor after working their regular shift. The ships will take the cargo to Cuba and the caravanistas will fly there.
The cargo also included an ambulance, four school buses, a mobile library, and several vans, six dialysis machines, an incubator, and hundreds of tons of medical and dental equipment, 50,000 paid of eyeglasses, school supplies and children's toys.
A special aspect of this caravan is the 12 seventh- and eighth-graders from the religious Bruderhof Community in Rifton, New York. The children insisted on going to Cuba to help the Cuban children and convinced their Elders to let them go.
They raised $20,000 to pay for the trip by doing odd jobs in the community, sending out fund raising letters and selling a cassette of their songs called "Cantando con Cuba" (Singing with Cuba).
The Bruderhof Community is sending a semi full of wooden children's furniture and toys that they make in their business called Community Playthings.
As one of the children said, "It's our obligation to do it and if we have to break the blockade we will. If our government has a problem with it, it's their problem."
Other participants in this caravan include 17 students from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.; a Catholic priest, Father Geoffrey Bottoms from England, and an English cab driver, Tony Caccavone, who shipped his cab - painted like the Cuban flag - over from England to be part of the caravan. There are also caravanistas from Canada, Scotland, Holland, Germany and Portugal.
Resolutions of support came from U.S. Rep. LaFalce, New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello, the Buffalo Common Council and some members of the Erie County Legislature.
The Eastern caravan wended its way across the Midwest. The Rev. George Hill, 80, drove a school bus to Minneapolis, Eau Claire, and Madison, Wisc. picking up supplies. The bus was donated by the Wisconsin Committee for Peace and Justice and when it returned to Milwaukee, an estimated $300,000 in medical supplies was loaded aboard, donated by the Milwaukee Area Technical School when the nursing department was moved to new quarters.
"It was an entire supply room filled with medical supplies," said John Gilman, a Milwaukee peace activist. "It included 10,000 hypodermic needles, 30,000 pairs of latex surgical gloves, sterilization equipment and 2,000 kits for performing blood transfusions."
More than 125 people gathered at Milwaukee's Central United Methodist Church May 8 for the sendoff of the caravan. Four brand new computers were donated by the church.
As the western segment of the caravan rolled out of San Diego, members of a fascist-like gang of Cuban emigres, Alpha 66, attacked, ramming caravan vehicles with their cars, hurling eggs and insults.
"They even attacked our ambulance," Rev. Walker said.
"I can't imagine how any decent person could justify attacking an ambulance for a children's hospital."
'We refuse to be complicit with a policy of death and starvation'
A statement of the U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan
U.S. officials must see the groundswell of opposition to the U.S. blockade of Cuba. We represent the majority will of the United States. 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 U.S. citizens has forced a slight liberalization in the enforcement of the blockade. But we remain concerned and much work remains to be done.
The U.S. continues to enforce a tight international blockade on the sale and trade of the 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, and to stop punishing those innocent children.
Our future work must include a concerted campaign to support legislation which will exempt food and medicine from the blockade. And from there, we will keep working until [the] Helms/Burton and Torricelli [acts] 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.
-Rev. Lucius Walker Jr.
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