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      Lift the U.S. Blockade on Cuba!
      Humanitarian Aid for Cuba en Route with the 2015 Caravan to Cuba!

      By Azza Rojbi

      Before 1959, Cuba was governed by a series of dictators imposed by the US government.

      U.S. Companies owned over 50% of Cuba’s railways, over 70% of its land and 90% of Cuba’s telephone and electricity services. The Cuban people lived in poverty and hunger while the resources and wealth of their country were plundered and funnelled outside of the island.

      Led by Fidel Castro and other revolutionary fighters such as Ernesto Che Guevara and Raul Castro the Cuban people stood up against the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and succeeded in overthrowing Batista on January 1, 1959. A new Cuban government was formed to represent the interest of Cuban people and right to self-determination of the Cuba against the U.S. Domination and exploitation.

      Soon after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the U.S ceased all diplomatic relations with Cuba and imposed a full economic blockade against the island. This inhuman blockade has so far cost the Cuban economy $1.2 trillion and continue to cause shortages of medicine, food and other necessary supplies to the Cuban people. People from around the world have been demanding an end to the U.S. blockade against Cuba, including the United Nations general assembly which in 2014, for the 23rd year, voted to condemn the blockade of Cuba by United States.

      Building People to People Relations

      Every summer since 1992, the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba, a Cuba solidarity project organized by the Inter- religious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) in the United States, breaks the U.S. blockade and travel ban against Cuba. Brightly painted school buses, full of Humanitarian aid people travel through up to 100 cities in Canada, U.S. and Mexico raising awareness about the U.S. blockade against Cuba. The Humanitarian aid collected is openly taken through the Canada/U.S. Border then the U.S./ Mexico border and then delivered to Cuba. Caravanistas, as people call them, 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.

      Over the past 25 Caravans thousands of participants and over 30,000 tons of humanitarian aid have been brought to Cuba, building a ‘people-to-people’ foreign policy based on mutual respect, solidarity and friendship between the people of the U.S., Canada and Cuba.

      On December 17, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro both announced the first steps towards reestablishing diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba after over 50 years of U.S. hostility towards Cuba. However, despite ongoing negotiations and some important steps forward, the U.S. government is still refusing to lift its cruel and inhuman blockade against Cuba.

      In the lights of this new diplomatic developments, the 26th annual Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba is one of the most important ever as we need to increase our work and pressure on the U.S. government to end its blockade on Cuba. This year’s caravan kicked off with a successful U.S./Canada Border Crossing. The following is a report from Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba on its border crossing event.

      Victory at B.C./Washington State Border

      Just before 5pm on Saturday, June 27, 2015, a van full of humanitarian aid for Cuba crossed the Canada/U.S. border, breaking the illegal, immoral and unjust U.S. blockade against Cuba! This great victory was accompanied by a loud, colourful and energetic rally at the Peace Arch border crossing, which had supporters of Cuba from both British Columbia and Washington State chanting, “Lift the Blockade on Cuba NOW! Abajo el Bloqueo!” as the van full of humanitarian aid entered the U.S. customs area. Our united voices ensured that the all of the humanitarian aid, including wheelchairs, walkers, canes, sewing machines, hand tools and sports equipment continued on the road to Cuba as part of the 26th Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba.

      The victory this year was especially important because all of the humanitarian aid crossed through the Peace Arch Park border crossing, despite the initial objections of the U.S. border officials. In the last few years activists bringing humanitarian aid through the border have been told that no aid would be allowed to pass through the Peace Arch Park border crossing. Initially, this year was no different, with the border officials declaring “You know we will not let you through here, why did you bother coming?” But Caravan supporters stood their ground and in the end all of the humanitarian aid was allowed to cross!

      This year is also an important year for the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba as after over 50 years of hostile U.S. policies towards Cuba, a new dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba has begun. However, despite this opening, the over 50-year old criminal U.S. blockade on Cuba remains in full force. Now it is more important than ever for people from around the world to demand an end to this cruel policy and increase our efforts to end to the U.S. blockade against Cuba.

      Before the victory at the border, supporters of Cuba from across Washington State and B.C. gathered in Peace Arch Park for a potluck picnic complete with delicious food, poetry, live music and a featured speaker, Nino Pagliccia, Editor of the new book “Cuba Solidarity in Canada: 5 Decades of People-to- People Foreign Relations”(Friesen Press, 2014). The MC of the day, Tamara Hansen, the coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC), introduced a diverse program that began with poetry from Vancouver organizer Shakeel Lochan and Ruth Caspell from Nanaimo, BC, who read a poem from Cuban 5 hero Antonio Guerrero. Next there were words from Judy Zeh of the Seattle/Cuba Friendship Committee and a first time Caravanista. Judy also introduced everyone to Xochitl Garcia, a recent graduate of the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba.

      The gathering also took time in the program to recognize the great contributions of two fighters for Cuba that have passed, the founder of Pastors for Peace, Rev. Lucius Walker Jr. and a leader in the Cuba solidarity and social justice movement in Seattle, Tom Warner.

      The event then received greetings from Pastors for Peace organizer Manolo de los Santos who called from Boston to wish participants a successful border crossing. The program closed with the beautiful music of Maria Luisa Melendez, who inspired the crowd as they picked up signs, banners and flags and began the march to challenge the U.S. blockade on Cuba that would end in victory.

      This victory at the Canada/U.S. border is the first test for this year’s Pastors for Peace Caravan. We ask that all of our supporters and co-fighters stay on alert for the U.S./Mexico border crossing on Thursday, July 16, where the caravan could face another challenge on their route to make sure the humanitarian aid reaches Cuba!

      This year’s border crossing was co-organized by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the Seattle/ Cuba Friendship Committee and endorsed by ANSWER Seattle, US Women & Cuba Collaboration, Free the Cuban 5 Committee – Vancouver and the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five (Seattle).

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