IRS bullies Pastors for Peace, Cuba solidarity activists – petition

In an interview August 29 with a Cuban website, Gail Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, accused the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in effect, of persecuting that faith-based, human rights organization. The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) and its protégé organization Pastors for Peace have long taken a leading role in the national campaign for reversing U.S. hostility toward revolutionary Cuba.

According to the IFCO/Pastors for Peace website, the IRS has launched investigations and made accusations that threaten the group’s tax-exempt and non-profit status. Alerted by Representatives Brad Sherman, D-Cal., and Sue Myrick, R-N.C., the IRS in 2011 alleged that IFCO support for the legitimate charitable organization Viva Palestina had morphed into backing for the supposed terrorist group Hamas. IFCO/Pastors for Peace appealed and the charge was dropped.

A new accusation followed, specifically that the group was violating the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act through its solidarity work with Cuba it . A successful appeal by IFCO/Pastors for Peace disposed of that charge also. Now the group is dealing with a third charge, that of flawed record-keeping.

Rev. Lucius Walker, Gail Walker’s father, founded IFCO in 1967 and led the group until his death. IFCO has advised, encouraged, and supported people victimized through poverty and/or racial oppression, and done so through advancing their organizations. It was the nation’s first organization taking on such a mission founded and controlled by people of color.

IFCO pursued a “people’s foreign policy,” and for that purpose formed its associated organization Pastors for Peace in 1988 to carry out advocacy work and send consciousness-raising  “caravans” of humanitarian aid material to Central America, the Caribbean area, and Cuba.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace on September 1 informed supporters that its appeal on the charge of inadequate record-keeping had failed. On being interviewed by Rosa Miriam Elizarde, editor of the website, Gail Walker speculated as to consequences. If the U.S. government has its way, she said, Pastors for Peace will be paying taxes on donations, the group’s sole source of income. Having to pay taxes on their gifts, donors may no longer give, or will give less. And “the projects we fiscally sponsor will have to look for other sponsors whose tax-free status is intact.”

Introducing Walker, Elizalde noted that, “In spite of the many times attempts were made at the Mexican border to block its humanitarian cargo on the way to Cuba, Pastors for Peace has maintained its caravans to Cuba uninterruptedly since 1992.”

She noted that Pastors for Peace “yellow buses” still travel the streets of Cuban cities and that “hospitals and schools [in Cuba] have benefited for years” from aid brought on those buses to Cuba. Pastors for Peace volunteers traveling on the buses through the United States informed “people about the consequences of sanctions directed at making the Cuban people surrender through a lack of food and medicines.”

Bringing their humanitarian aid material to Cuba, the bus riders violated U.S. rules governing the blockade. They did so purposefully as a matter of civil disobedience.

Elizalde pointed out that “Until the last moment of his life, the Reverend Lucius Walker… dedicated a good part of his energies to correcting the injustice of his government. In interviews, he always repeated that his object was to win hearts and minds in the United States to the Cuban people. Just before his death in September, 2010 he called upon President Obama to act on his election-campaign promise to re-establish U.S. relations with Cuba.”

For her part, Gail Walker confessed to surprise at the assault by the IRS, especially in view of President Obama’s role in advancing a “process toward normalizations of relations,” his trip to Cuba, and his “declaration that North American policy toward the island had failed.” She added that “President Obama has called for an end to the blockade.'”

She expected that “the President would respect the work of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. For a quarter of a century we’ve organized friendship caravans as an expression of love and solidarity with the [Cuban] people and in opposition to the blockade.”

By way of explanation, Walker observed that “inside the United States, a campaign still persists whose purpose is to undermine Cuba and its revolutionary principles. IFCO/Pastors for Peace has always embraced the commitment of Cuban leaders to put the welfare of their people first. That’s why we continue…calling upon the U.S. government to end its efforts towards ‘regime change.'”

Advocates of non-interventionist U.S. relations with Cuba are alarmed at what they see as persecution of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. “How ironic, cruel, and petty,” observed the National Network on Cuba, “that the U.S. Government has focused on destroying a religious organization whose mission is to act in love and the spirit of community.”

Judy Robbins, a member of the Let Cuba Live Committee of Maine, lamented  that “After years of steady progress, hard-earned gains, and the beginnings of something like normal, here comes the IRS to vindictively try to dismantle one of the most successful and admired efforts in this long campaign.” Robbins joins Gail Walker in urging one and all to sign the petition here.

Photo: petition site (see above link)


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

W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine. He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People's World.