Pastors group campaigns for Cuba solidarity

You might assume that Pastors for Peace, which is being harassed by the U.S. Treasury Department for delivering humanitarian aid to Cuba, is in a pickle. But the Rev. Lucius Walker, director of the New York-based ecumenical group, thinks otherwise. He calls the department’s actions “another gift given to us by the U.S. government to organize and gain support for Cuba.”

On July 21 in Hidalgo, Texas, U.S. border officials blocked 43 boxes of computers and computer-related material from traveling to Cuba for use there by hospitals and schools for children with disabilities. However, 98 percent of the medical and educational supplies, plus 130 Pastors for Peace supporters, did make it to the socialist island.

Seven people stayed behind to launch a campaign for the remaining material to be let through.

Pastors for Peace and its supporters practice civil disobedience, in this instance by challenging two Treasury Department regulations. They neither applied for nor secured the license required for sending humanitarian aid to the Cuban people. Nor did they obtain U.S. government authorization to travel to Cuba.

Now they and their counterparts from last year’s “Friendshipment” caravan have been receiving notices from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control inquiring about their trip. The OFAC letter serves as a hint that fines may be in the works.

The group is undaunted. From Dallas on Aug. 16 the Pastors for Peace team declared, “We are not only working for the release of the seized computer aid. ... We are also talking about the appointment of a U.S. ‘administrator’ (a la Paul Bremer) for Cuba’s supposed transition to a market economy that can be controlled by the U.S. We are sounding the alert about the always-imminent threat of a U.S. attack or invasion of Cuba. .… As we see it, these issues are all part of the same Bush agenda of domination and imperialism.”

From 1996 until now government officials had looked the other way when Cuba-bound humanitarian supplies and Pastors for Peace activists passed through U.S. border stations. They probably wanted to avoid embarrassing publicity similar to that in 1996, when Lucius Walker and four others fasted for 94 days, forcing the release of 430 computers to the Cuban health care system.

The Pastors for Peace group is currently heading north from the Texas-Mexico border. The Rev. Walker, the Rev. Luis Barrios, Ellen Bernstein and Bill Hill are speaking out en route at meetings, rallies, and press conferences. They need to be in Washington, says Walker, “to get right in the faces of the people who make policy decisions. We will be spreading the word, not just about the need to release the computers, but about the need to end the blockade.”

Wednesday vigils for the release of the computers have been springing up across the nation during the past month. According to Walker, their message is: “We, the people, will not let our administration dictate a foreign policy of death, destruction and starvation toward Iraq or Cuba.”

At the same time, Cuba solidarity activists are mobilizing support for the freedom of Cuban Five as they face a new trial and in support of Venezuela’s demand for the extradition of terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.

atwhit @ megalink.net