Every summer since 1992, the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba, a Cuba solidarity project organized by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) in the United States, breaks the U.S. blockade and travel ban against Cuba. The blockade is broken when humanitarian aid collected in communities all across Canada and the U.S. is openly taken through the U.S./Mexico border and then delivered to Cuba. The law that prevents people in the U.S. from travelling to Cuba is broken when Caravanistas participate in a educational and cultural program in Cuba and then return to the U.S. declaring that they have been to the island nation.
This year marked the 20th Anniversary Caravan to Cuba. Brightly painted school buses, box trucks and other vehicles once again took to the highway with their message to lift the U.S. blockade against Cuba, return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba and free the Cuban 5 political prisoners held in the U.S. From June 24th through July 15th events were held in 80 cities all over the U.S. and Canada, from Ottawa to Atlanta and Vancouver to El Paso, which educated people about the U.S. blockade against Cuba, the Cuban 5 and the gains made by the people of Cuba since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
Part 1: Pastors for Peace Speaker Bill Hackwell Tours Across BC
The Pastors for Peace Caravan began with a tour through British Columbia organized by the British Columbia Aid Network for Cuba (BCANC) in coordination with groups and individuals in cities across BC. Each event to “send-off” the Caravan on it's way to Cuba featured route speaker Bill Hackwell, a known social documentary photographer and an organizer with the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. Bill shared his knowledge and experience about Cuba and the Cuban 5, bringing with him a message of the necessity solidarity across borders in the struggle to end the U.S. blockade against Cuba, a policy which not only prevents trade between the U.S. and Cuba, but also effects the ability of Cuba to trade internationally for everything from steel and medicine to paper and food products.
During the one week of the whirl-wind tour, Bill spoke in four cities across BC; Victoria, Nanaimo, Kamloops and Vancouver. The kick off for the tour was on Sunday June 24th when Latin America solidarity activists in Victoria came together for delicious food, musical performances and a lively discussion about Cuba and the Caravan.
Then on Wednesday, June 27th Cuba solidarity activists in Nanaimo screened the film “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” by world-renowned director Saul Landau at Vancouver Island University. The event was sponsored by the Vancouver Island University Faculty Association's Human Rights and International Solidarity Committee, and brought together people from the Nanaimo solidarity community as well as students and faculty from the University.
After a ride on the ferry and up the highway to the interior of B.C. the Caravan tour arrived in Kamloops. Here the Thompson Rivers University Socialists Club organized a successful BBQ and film showing of “Who's Afraid of the Little Yellow School Bus?” This film chronicles the 1993 hunger strike waged by Pastors for Peace that won the release of a small school bus that had been seized by the U.S. government on it's way to Cuba. This was the first time that Kamloops has hosted the Pastors for Peace Caravan and many people participating in the event were new to Cuba and excited to learn more, get involved in solidarity and wanted to “hop on the bus” and go on the Caravan next summer!
On Saturday June 30th the tour to end the U.S. blockade against Cuba arrived in Vancouver. Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) organized a BBQ and cultural evening at Trout Lake Park. Cuba solidarity and social justice activists were not deterred by the typical Vancouver summertime rain, and came together underneath the gazebo decorated with Cuban flags and brightly coloured banners. The cultural program included local Mexican singer and guitar player Yahara Muñoz; Thomas P. Radcliffe, a folksinger and songwriter from New Mexico; and Eliza Gardner, singer/songwriter from Nanaimo.
Part 2: Gathering for the Peace Arch Border Crossing
Events from the BC-wide tour culminated in a cross-border solidarity gathering held at Peace Arch Park, at the BC/Washington border, on Sunday July 1st. The BC Aid Network for Cuba as well as other Cuba solidarity organizations and individuals from Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, Victoria, Nanaimo, Courtenay/Comox, Kamloops, Bellingham, Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia came together for an afternoon of food, music and friendship, as well as protest action.
Before picking up Cuban flags and banners demanding “End the Blockade Against Cuba!” and marching together to the border to ensure the passage of humanitarian aid from BC into the U.S., people enjoyed a dynamic program of speakers and musicians. This featured a rallying presentation from Caravan route speaker Bill Hackwell, as well as greetings from each of the Caravanistas who would be getting on the bus that day, including 5 Cuba solidarity organizers from Vancouver and two young activists from Denmark who had travelled to Vancouver to begin their journey and musical performances by Thomas P. Radcliffe, folksinger and songwriter and socially conscious hip-hop artist Joose Justis. This year also included a special dedication to Tom Warner a long-time Cuba solidarity activist and social justice fighter from Seattle, who passed away in 2011. As well, special recognition was given to the founder of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr. Who passed away in September of 2010. Although Tom and Lucius were not at the border this year, their presence and fighting spirits were with everyone as we headed to the border.
Every year the BC/Washington border crossing is an important test for the U.S. government and the blockade against Cuba. As aid enters the U.S. from Canada, activists declare that the final destination of the aid is Cuba, directly challenging the U.S. border officials to respond. Last year, Caravanistas were told repeatedly by U.S. border officials they would not allow the aidto cross without the payment of an outrageous bond until an emergency media campaign, legal challenge and extended demonstration on both sides of the border forced them to allow the aid through.
As Caravan supporters and activists marched, alongside the truck load of humanitarian aid including medical and education supplies and sports equipment collected all over BC, toward the border, they were sure that with determination and unity this year would also end in victory. 24 hours later that victory had been assured. After continuous protest on both sides of the U.S./Canada border and at two border crossings, a great victory against the U.S. blockade against Cuba was won and the truck full of humanitarian aid that was initially denied entry into the U.S. was let through. [For more information about the struggle and victory at the border please read the article We Fought Back and Won!].
The victory at the border was a strong ending to a successful week of events and actions in solidarity with Cuba in BC. Through the 23rd Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba, hundreds of people were able to learn more about Cuba, the Cuban 5 and join in a cross-border solidarity project through attending and organizing events and collecting humanitarian aid, not to mention the tens of thousands of people who listened to the radio interviews with Bill Hackwell, or watched the news coverage on every major television station in BC, including the National television network, the CBC, of the victorious struggle at the border.
From such a powerful beginning the 23rd Pastors for Peace Caravan crossed the border into Mexico on July 19th. Now it is our responsibility here to continue to support the Caravan, not only as they return to the U.S. proudly declaring that they have been in Cuba on July 31st, but also throughout this year, and every year until the U.S. blockade against Cuba is lifted.
For more information please visit:
The BC Aid Network for Cuba:
End the U.S. Blockade Against Cuba!
Cuba Si! Bloqueo No!
Free the Cuban 5 Now!
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