WASHINGTON – Two yellow school buses, part of the 13th Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba, brought protesters to a rally outside the U.S. Treasury building July 8. The protesters vowed to deliver the buses plus tons more humanitarian aid to Cuba, in defiance of the 42-year blockade of that island nation.

“We are here to protest the immoral trade restrictions and travel restrictions placed on citizens seeking to travel to Cuba,” said Olivia Burlingame, the local District of Columbia coordinator of Pastors for Peace (PFP), sponsor of the caravan.

The caravanistas, ranging from teens to retirees, are on their way to San Antonio, Tx., where they will rendezvous July 15 with at least 18 other vehicles from across the nation. The caravan is passing through more than 100 towns and cities in Canada and the U.S., promoting solidarity with Cuba and opposition to the trade embargo with Cuba.

The plan is to cross the Mexican border with more than 80 tons of material assistance, including computers, medicine, medical equipment, ambulances and school buses, donated by churches and schools to be loaded aboard a Cuban freighter. They hope to arrive in Cuba July 20 and spend a week meeting with the Cuban people as well as 38 American students who are studying medicine on full scholarship at Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine.

Pastors for Peace made clear they will not apply for Treasury Department licenses to transport the goods or to travel to Cuba. Since 1992, PFP, together with the Interreligious Foundation For Community Organization (IFCO), has delivered 2,200 tons of urgently needed assistance to the Cuban people. This is the first Friendshipment since the Bush administration began cracking down on U.S. citizens who travel to the island.

Burlingame, a local high school teacher, spent a year in Cuba studying at the University of Havana. This is the fourth time she has participated in a Friendshipment caravan. “I am also the coordinator of the youth awareness project,” she told the World. “Our main task was raising funds to send D.C. high school students on the Friendshipment. What better way to teach students the spirit of Independence Day than to exercise our right as U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba and to stand in support of the Cuban people who have been brutalized by our government’s mean-spirited embargo policy?”

Burlingame told the World the caravan participants have differing views about Cuba, “but we have come together out of our respect for Cuban sovereignty. The Cuban people made a choice in electing their leaders. If they feel it is necessary to make a change, it should be their decision.”

Peta Lindsay, a caravan member who plans to attend Howard University in the fall, added, “We have a duty as U.S. citizens to change our government’s policy that hurts Cubans, especially the elderly and children.”

IFCO National Coordinator Ellen Bernstein told the World, “In the past year Bush has named at least four far-rightwing Cuban Americans to key posts in the State Department, National Security Council, Foreign Claims and USAID. Bush owes his election to his friends in Florida and will cater to them at least until his brother, Jeb, is reelected governor. Enforcement of the travel blockade has been stepped up and we are very concerned about the potential for dirty tricks against Cuba.”

She cited the fact that Bush has given posts to former Reagan officials like Otto Reich, John Negroponte and Elliott Abrams, who played key roles in the criminal Iran-contra conspiracy. “Otto Reich worked closely with Ollie North,” she said, referring to Ronald Reagan’s favorite Marine Lt. Col.

In a statement released at the rally, Rev. Lucius Walker explained why PFP/IFCO refuses to apply for Treasury licenses. “The U.S. government attempts to paint a pretty face on its genocidal policy through the licensing of humanitarian aid and travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba,” he said. “As people of faith and conscience, it is our duty to expose this lie.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com