Dozens of volunteers from the US, Canada and Europe have begun their challenge of the U.S. blockade and travel restrictions against Cuba at the U.S. - Mexico border on July 19th. They expect to collect 100 tons of humanitarian aid during a two-week caravan that will converge in McAllen, Texas before traveling on to Cuba without U.S. treasury department licenses. They intend to deliver school buses, educational supplies, medicines, and medical supplies gathered in communities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
As the group began their journey, they were held up by U.S. customs officials at the border of Vancouver and Washington State border. Initially, officials insisted that a bond needed to be paid in order for boxes of deflated basketballs and other used sports equipment to be transported across the border. A continuous spirited protest followed at the border by supporters on both sides of the crossing,
After a 24-hour struggle ALL the aid the Caravanistas were carrying was delivered across the Canadian border to the United States WITHOUT a license and WITHOUT the payment of a bond.
Gail Walker, co-Executive Director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace said that the encounter reminded her of earlier caravans. The incident in Vancouver is reminiscent of the encounters we've had over the past 20 years where small inconsequential items are targeted by the US government. First toasters and bibles, then bicycles and computers.....now used sports equipment.”
“When we asked the customs officials whether they really planned to hold up our caravan because of a box of old used baseball mitts and soccer balls, the official replied "yep" said Walker.
For twenty years IFCO/Pastors for Peace has enjoyed a strong partnership with our international partners from Europe, Canada and Mexico in fighting the US blockade of Cuba. This victory is another example of the importance of our international effort to break the blockade and is a wonderful way to kick off the 20th anniversary US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba.
“Our non-violent caravan of peace-loving individuals is a challenge to this violation of our rights to express our faith and to travel to Cuba.” said Walker.
“We must continue to keep the pressure on -- to end the blockade, to normalize relations with Cuba, and to engage in dialogue based in mutual respect, rather than our insisting on undermining Cuba's sovereignty” declared Father Luis Barrios.
The 20th Anniversary Friendshipment Caravan will travel on 9 routes crisscrossing the U.S. and Canada stopping in 47 US states and six Canadian provinces. Along the way the caravan will be hosted in 100 communities who support a new US Cuba policy based on respect and non-aggression.
IFCO/Pastors for Peace rejects the current licensing system as both immoral and illegal. It is immoral because it endangers the lives of millions of Cubans and inflicts suffering on innocent children, as well as adults.
It is illegal under international law because it uses medicine and food as weapons of war to force another nation to change its government. Licensing is also unconstitutional because it requires people of faith to submit their acts of conscience and friendship to government licensing, in violation of our right to freedom of religious expression, political thought, association and travel,” said Walker.
Since 1992 IFCO/Pastors for Peace has used hunger strikes and mass mobilizations to successfully challenge U.S. government attempts to confiscate vehicles and humanitarian aid bound for Cuba. The ecumenical initiative is a project of IFCO, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, and has delivered more than 3,500 tons of urgently needed assistance to the Cuban people.