The 13th Friendshipment of humanitarian aid to the people of Cuba crossed the Rio Grande River into Reynosa, Mexico, on July 18. The caravan of 15 buses, trucks and ambulances then headed for Tampico where the mostly medical supplies would be loaded into a ship bound for Cuba. The vehicles had come from every part of the United States, and the 80 participants going on to Cuba included 13 people from Canada and Europe.

This was the tenth year that Pastors for Peace, under the leadership of Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., has organized the donation project as a direct confrontation against the U.S. blockade of socialist Cuba. Because no attempt is ever made to obtain the license for humanitarian donations to Cuba required by the U.S. Treasury Department, and because no license is obtained for travel to Cuba, the Friendshipments are a manifestation of civil disobedience. On the group’s return into the United States, they will again be challenging the blockade by bringing with them a useful product, as yet unspecified, made in Cuba but not in the United States.

Government officials tried to block the early Friendshipments through confiscating aid material and impounding vehicles. But faced with tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, they backed down each time.

In 1996 Lucius Walker and three others fasted for 94 days and forced the release of 430 computers to Cuban hospitals. Since then border officials have let the Friendshipment caravans pass into Mexico or Canada unimpeded.

This year was no exception, and heading into Mexico, Walker declared another victory. A unified, highly visible protest had broken the blockade, and openings made by earlier Friendshipments remained intact.

Participants gave voice to two overall themes. As part of the organized opposition to U.S. Cuban policy, the Friendshipments are unique for their directness and determination. And many of the participants see themselves as being part of a long political tradition of no compromise.

In a press conference before crossing the border, Lucius Walker declared that Cuba must be defended not only because of legal and moral considerations, but also because “The world needs Cuba.” Cuba, he noted, stands up against globalized capitalism and deserves support because as a socialist nation, previously poor and exploited, it has made a reality of social justice.

Sandy Siegal of San Francisco went to Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1964 to teach in a freedom school and to help with voter registration. As a “caravanista” he is gratified that he is again fighting for equality and against unchecked power. Three decades ago Jim Stockwell was part of the Clamshell Alliance standing up to the Seabrook, N.H., nuclear plant, and a few weeks ago he joined an anti-war protest at Ft. Bragg, N.C. Now his pick-up truck was taking medical supplies from Chapel Hill to Cuba.

At 2 a.m., July 18, as the caravan set out from San Antonio to the border city of McAllen, Texas, Judy Robbins from Maine offered a prayer that drew upon basic principles of ethics and morality. A member of the Maine group, Let Cuba Live, she expressed the hope that that organization would be expanding its ongoing challenge to the blockade along the northern border. 120 boxes of medical supplies seized by border officials during attempted crossings last summer remain confiscated.

A large group of young activists were part of this year’s Friendshipment, many of them involved in recent anti-globalization actions. Several indicated that for them the Friendshipment was serving as a tutorial in non-violent civil disobedience.

The Friendshipments will continue, according to Walker, until the U.S. embargo is no more and until relations exist between Cuba and the United States that are based upon mutual respect. Most U.S. citizens now oppose the blockade, and surely protests that take the form of direct action, such as the Friendshipment, can only serve to remind the Congress of the logic and necessity of changing U.S. policy, including the ban on travel to Cuba. The suggestion here is that the work of Pastors for Peace deserves the support of World readers. They might think about devising other forms of direct action. And why not join the next Friendshipment?

W.T. Whitney, Jr., is a contributor from Maine. He can be reached at