Friendshipment en route to Cuba, breaking U.S. blockade

The U.S. economic blockade against Cuba, which has lasted 50 years, targets people. As explained by a State Department official in the Eisenhower era: the aim is “for a line of action that… would achieve major progress in denying Cuba money and supplies [and] thereby cause hunger, desperation, and the collapse of the government.”

The Cuban people thus became pawns, many say, in order to undo a revolutionary movement that, fighting for national independence and social justice, had put an end to a corrupt, murderous, U.S.-supported dictatorship. The cruelty of a blockade restricting goods needed for human survival, and the lawlessness of attacks on Cuba’s national sovereignty have been widely condemned. The human rights group Pastors for Peace and its leader, the late Rev. Lucius Walker, led in pointing out that such U.S. policies aimed at causing human suffering are immoral.   

But Pastors for Peace and its supporters have taken action. During early July this year, buses loaded with donated aid material followed routes across the United States south to McAllen, Texas. Along the way, supporters got on board to go to Cuba, in the process participating in 130 solidarity events where Cuba and the blockade were discussed, new supplies taken aboard, and purse strings opened up. On July 21 the entire “Friendshipment Caravan” will proceed from McAllen to Tampico, Mexico, where the donated supplies and buses will be loaded onto a ship bound for Cuba. A Cuban airliner will take the travelers to Cuba for a week of educational and solidarity activities.

The Friendshipment Caravans began some two decades ago. By 1992 the collapse of the Soviet bloc had caused terrible shortages in Cuba. The U.S. government took advantage of that occasion to block companies throughout the world with even flimsy U.S. connections from sending food and medical supplies to Cuba. Pastors for Peace responded with its first Friendshipment.

Objecting to the entire policy of blockade, Pastors for Peace refuses to secure licenses required for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Cuba. And Friendshipment travelers visit the island without authorization. One need not ask permission to help out a neighbor, Rev Walker used to say. He characterized the campaign as a “people’s foreign policy.”

The Maine Cuba solidarity group Let Cuba Live has participated in all 22 Friendshipment caravans. Indeed, the caravans have gone ahead entirely through the involvement of similar groups throughout the United States and Canada. The Caravane d’Amitie Quebec-Cuba, for example, has supported the last 17 caravans, all in conjunction with Let Cuba Live. This year both groups once more collected donated medical, education, and construction materials. Let Cuba Live held educational and fund raising events complete with food and music and provided support for three Maine people going to Cuba this year with the Friendshipment Caravan. Dozens of other Mainers have visited Cuba in the same way.

On July 2, Let Cuba Live people joined 35 activists from Montreal and Quebec City outside the Hotel de Ville in Coaticook, Quebec. The Montreal contingent had arrived on a labor union bus. Canadian media interviewed members of both groups.  The bi-national solidarity effort eventually moved on to the nearby U.S. border station in Norton, Vermont, where Mainers and Quebecers together presented boxes of Quebec aid material to U.S. border authorities.

This time, the U.S. officials facilitated easy transfer into the United State of supplies they knew were destined for Cuba. On earlier crossings, activists of the two countries had resisted U.S. harassment and confiscations. Let Cuba Live representatives on hand this year heard one U.S. official express relief at not having to deal with such unruliness. Moved apparently by the unhappy memory, he seemed to be offering assurance that future crossings of suspect goods would pass through without problems. “See you next year!” he said as the fully loaded Maine vehicles headed south.

A day later, Let Cuba Live gathered aid material in an event on the Green in Brunswick, Maine. Construction materials and devices used in deaf people’s education were added to other supplies contributed from Maine and Quebec. On July 6, the entire collection was moved by truck and trailer to Massachusetts where, at a solidarity event in Cambridge, all of it ended up on a Friendshipment bus. The three Maine participants got on board there.

At Let Cuba Live public gatherings during the month, speakers raised the case of the Cuban Five political prisoners. Those in attendance were urged to sign a petition calling upon President Obama to free from jail those Cuban men defending their people from terrorism. Later on, a Let Cuba Live representative assisting at Caravan gatherings in the Carolinas again sought signatures for the petition, which is accessible at the People’s World homepage.

Photo: Members of the 19th Friendshipment in 2008, via the group’s blog.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.