Friday, July 20, 2012

Annual Pastors for Peace Aid Caravan en Route to Cuba


Tamara Hansen, left, and Gail Walker carry a Cuban flag as they cross from Hidalgo to Reynosa as part of the Pastors for Peace organization Thursday July 19, 2012 at the Hidalgo International Bridge in Hidalgo. Citizens cross the US border into Mexico on route to Cuba to deliver 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba and defy the US trade and travel blockade. The aid includes computers, pencils, hammers, plumbing pipes, solar panels, medications.
Gabe Hernandez | gabrielh@themonitor.com
 
The Monitor
Serving the Rio Grande Valley of Texas since 1909
 
July 19, 2012 11:03 PM
 
Five buses full of humanitarian aid and 60-plus caravanistas crossed into Mexico on Thursday morning, shrugging off the risks of the Tamaulipas roads amid their 23rd annual defiance of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

This year’s aid journey began last week, when caravanistas departing from Canada decided to challenge the U.S. policy and bring the aid through the United States instead of sending it from Canada, which has no embargo on Cuba.

“We chose to collect that aid and send it with the Pastors for Peace caravan to Cuba through the United States as an act of civil disobedience,” said Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba.

The embargo “is stopping educational supply, medicines and sports equipment from arriving to the hands of Cuban people,” she said.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment for this story, referring to an online outline of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I encourage people to get involved next year in the 2013 caravan to Cuba because we are going to be doing this every year until the U.S. ends this inhuman and criminal policy,” Hansen said.

The caravanistas experienced difficulties at the British Columbia-Washington border. But verbal persuasion from Pastors for Peace lawyers and the group’s co-director, Gail Walker, convinced border agents that the majority of their cargo was humanitarian aid, rather than commercial goods. And as for the rest of the cargo — the sports equipment — agents relented and let it pass after a 24-hour protest by the caravanistas at the border.

On Monday the group gathered in the First Christian Church in McAllen while they worked with Mexican customs to cross into Mexico.

GEOPOLITICS

In October, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba, with Canada and 185 other countries in opposition.

Only the U.S. and Israel backed “this inhuman and immoral” embargo, Hansen said. “So we are standing together not only as a group of caravanistas and our supporters in Texas, but as a worldwide movement demanding to end this cruel policy against Cuba.

The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, the parent company of the project of Pastors for Peace, was expecting more progress from the Obama administration on ending the embargo.

“We were hopeful; that has not happened,” Walker said. “We continue to push and hope in the near future in can happen.”

But the group has no expectation of seeing the embargo lifted should presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama on Election Day, Walker said.

“I suspect (Romney) will hold the line of his predecessors on the Republican ticket,” Walker said. “I don’t see him actually making things easier.”
The group opposes the licensing policy to travel to Cuba that has been eased for Cuban-Americans.

Because people must apply for a license and get the permission of the government, “that means they can dictate who can go, when they go, what they take,” Walker said. “Our position is licensing is never appropriate because you can’t license love. You can’t license solidarity with people.

“That is why we maintain this very strict policy against licensing,” Walker said.

EMBARGO SUPPORT

Mario Jorge, 49, a Rio Grande Valley engineer who left Cuba when he was 8, thinks the embargo “probably outlived its usefulness” but understands the reason the U.S. had to establish it.

“The Cuban government is very oppressive,” Jorge said. “There is no freedom of religion, there is no political freedom.”

There is not financial freedom, either, Jorge said.

The European companies that are doing business in Cuba pay the government for the labor, and then “the Cuban government subcontracts the labor and they pay them measly wages,” Jorge said.

“I suppose the U.S. position is not allowing U.S. companies to go and use the Cuban people as slaves,” Jorge said.

The embargo isn’t very effective anymore because European companies and other countries do business with Cuba, Jorge said. The policy is “an excuse for the Cuban government to blame their own inadequacies on” the U.S.

But “from a philosophical stand point, I support the U.S. position,” Jorge said. “We don’t want to be part of that oppression of the Cuban people,”

The caravanistas were welcomed in the Mexican side of the bridge by members of the Communist Youth of Mexico and the Communist Party, which is not registered as a political party with Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute.

ROAD RISKS

En route to the coastal city of Tampico, Tamps., the group must pass by San Fernando, the area some 90 miles south of McAllen where the bodies of 72 migrants were found in the summer of 2010. In the spring of 2011, more than 190 more bodies were found there in shallow graves. The Zetas were blamed.
But “we are not afraid because we are going to be with our Mexican brothers,” Manolo de los Santos, national coordinator of the caravan, said in Spanish.
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Martha L. Hernández covers health, business and general assignments for The Monitor and El Nuevo Heraldo. She can be reached at mlhernandez@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4846.

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