Maine and Quebec activists again protest U.S. anti-Cuban blockade

COATICOOK, Quebec – The U.S. and Cuban governments on July 1 restored diplomatic relations cut off half a century ago, but U. S. measures humiliating and messing with the sovereign Cuban people are still in force. They are aimed at ending Cuba’s social revolution.

What the two nations have done so far, according to a Cuban government statement on the same day, is only “the first stage of what will be a long and complex process. …  [L]ifting of the blockade, among other aspects, will be indispensable for the normalization of relations.” Cuba called upon the United States to do more. For one thing, it must end “programs aimed at promoting internal subversion and destabilization.”

Unfinished business indeed was on the minds of Canadian and U.S. Cuba solidarity activists on June 27 as they came together in Coaticook, Quebec, a few miles north of the U.S. border station at Norton, Vermont. For the 16th year they were engaging in action against the U.S. anti-Cuban economic blockade. Once more they were working together with the 2015 Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba.

That same day, on the other side of the continent, Vancouver defenders of Cuban independence were delivering humanitarian aid material to activists in Washington State.  They too were part of the Pastors for Peace network.

Members of the Quebec-Cuba Friendship Caravan, based in Montreal, had brought humanitarian donations from Montreal to the border, mostly medical supplies. They delivered the aid material to counterparts from Maine. They were there on behalf of that state’s Let Cuba Live organization, which has been part of every Pastors for Peace Friendshipment caravan since 1992, when the caravans began.

Inspired by the Rev. Lucius Walker, the late Pastors for Peace founder and leader, the solidarity activists were purposefully defying U.S.  blockade regulations, in particular the requirement that humanitarian donations be authorized beforehand. Walker spoke of a “people’s foreign policy.”

Pastors for Peace buses and trucks will soon be traveling across the United States to McAllen, Texas. On the way, donated goods will go on board and there will be solidarity meetings. A handful of veteran drivers will take the material from McAllen to Tampico, Mexico, for shipment later on to Cuba.

At a solidarity gathering in sight of the U.S. border station, Francesco Di Feo of the Quebec group lauded the Maine contingent for persisting in a struggle that will last as long, he promised, as does the blockade and until the United States no longer is interfering in Cuban affairs. In response, Maria Sanchez from Portland, Maine – and originally from Lima, Peru – spoke of Cuba’s leadership role in promoting social justice and Latin American unity.   

Together, solidarity activists of both groups presented the Quebecers’ aid material to U.S. border officials. The latter were aware the boxes were going to Cuba, but nevertheless authorized their entry into the United States. “See you next year,” the officers called out to the departing Let Cuba Live contingent. In earlier attempts to send aid material to Cuba, the officials had blocked and even confiscated it.

Let Cuba Live held a well-attended solidarity and fund-raising event at the Southern Maine Workers Center in Portland on June 28. While those in attendance enjoyed a meal prepared by Maria Sanchez and others, organizers presented the film “Maestra,” Catherine Murphy’s depiction of Cuba’s 1961 literacy campaign.

One speaker at the meeting discussed prospects for normalization of relations between the two countries. He reminded listeners that the blockade policy is based on the U. S. scheme, enunciated in 1960, of making the Cuban people suffer and thereby induce them to overthrow Cuba’s revolutionary government. There was consensus among the group that normal relations between the two countries were impossible as long the blockade remained. Calls were heard for repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1965 and for return to Cuba of property in Guantanamo where the famous U. S. naval base and prison are located.

Let Cuba Live members recalled Rev. Walker’s visit to Monument Square in Portland in 2001. The Pastors for Peace leader on that occasion told several hundred aroused Mainers that in order to bring down the blockade they must overcome obstacles and confront “the powers.” Two weeks later Walker was at Maine’s border with Quebec in support of an attempt then to send supplies to Cuba over the objections of border officials. That day the officials were enforcing U.S. rules.

This June 30, two Let Cuba Live members transported aid material from Quebec and Maine to a Pastors for Peace bus waiting in Schenectady, N.Y. The Maine contribution included construction materials and tools, medical and school supplies, and sports equipment.

Photo: IFCO/Pastors for Peace Facebook page



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.