Friday, July 29, 2005

Letter from the five (click to enlarge)

click on the letter to enlarge it, transcription and translation coming soon ...

Urgent ! New Numbers to Call Friday Afternoon!!


PASTORS FOR PEACE URGENT ALERT:

NEW NUMBERS TO CALL THIS AFTERNOON!!!

We REALLY need your help today in pressuring the Bush administration for the release of the second-hand computers and computer accessories (toner! cables! modems!) that they seized from our Pastors for Peace caravan one week ago.

Our attorney received a letter this morning from Michael D. Turner, Director of the Office of Export Enforcement at the Commerce Department. His letter addresses our attorney’s request for information about the seizure of aid, and about the basis for those actions, and about ‘procedures for recovering computers and other goods that were detained.’


The second paragraph states
The actions taken at Hidalgo were based on current US policy regarding relations between the United States and Cuba. The President has established a clear policy regarding relations between the United States and Cuba to support a rapid, peaceful transition to a democratic, market-oriented Cuba. The most comprehensive statement of current US policy toward Cuba is contained in the May 2004 report to the President by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. [He then refers us to the State Department website, and gives us the phone number for the Cuba desk at the State Department, 202/647-9273.]


The third paragraph states
The Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is responsible for the administration and enforcement of US dual-use export controls as set forth in the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) contained in Title 15 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). ... In general, Cuba-bound export items subject to the EAR require BIS-issued export licenses with noted exceptions. Parties exporting goods in violation of EAR requirements may be subject to criminal and administrative sanctions.


The fourth paragraph states
Export clearance, examination of exported goods, and enforcement of US export license requirements at US ports is the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection (CPB). CBP may detain goods presented for export to verify compliance with export requirements, seize goods found to be illegally exported, and take other actions. As regards matters involving your client at the Port of Hidalgo, Texas, BIS provided guidance to CBP on the relevant EAR provisions and the types of commodities which potentially qualify for EAR license exceptions. Enforcement actions at the Port of Hidalgo, Texas involving your client were taken by CBP.


We refer you to
Mr. Jayson P. Ahern, the CBP assistant commissioner for field operations, for information regarding those actions. Mr. Ahern’s telephone number is (202) 344-1620.


We were told that the aid seizure was done at the instruction of the Commerce Department. Now Michael Turner at Commerce is punting; he’s shifting responsibility to State and Customs.

SO LET’S MAKE SURE THEY HEAR FROM US RIGHT AWAY!
PLEASE CALL the Cuba desk at the State Department, 202/647-9273. (They’re going through a transition in staff; talk with whoever’s available, and we’ll give you a new name next week.)

PLEASE CALL Jayson Ahern, assistant commissioner for field operations at Customs, 202/344-1620.

PLEASE KEEP CALLING Michael Turner at the Commerce Department, 202/482-1208, ext. 3.

PLEASE KEEP CALLING CONGRESS, YOUR SENATORS AS WELL AS YOUR REP. (Congressional switchboard: 202/225-3121) As you talk with sympathetic offices, let us know the names of the aides you’re talking to, so we can put them on our email update list and get them more involved in our campaign! You can send their contact info to ellen bernstein at ellenb@igc.org.

The caravanistas who are currently in Cuba will be returning to the US on Monday morning, at the same crossing point in Hidalgo where our goods were seized last week. We are expecting some sort of major confrontation of the travelers from OFAC and ICE. (You remember that last year they interrogated every member of the caravan, searched every piece of personal luggage, and confiscated such controversial items as a paper flag on a stick, a book of poetry, a pair of maracas... This year we expect a harder confrontation.

We need your help to bombard Washington with calls this afternoon; and then to be on alert (and keep calling) on Monday morning!

Help us keep the pressure on!

Thanks for your wonderful work!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

ACTION ALERT AND UPDATE FROM HIDALGO
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

All of us here in Hidalgo want to greet you in solidarity, and to thank you for all that you are doing to win the release of our caravan’s aid for Cuba. We are so pleased at how quickly the campaign is growing – and we are so grateful for the wonderful work being done by our support network in all parts of the US and around the world!


VIGILS, RALLIES, EVENTS:
On Wednesday July 27, we held a prayer vigil at the International Bridge that connects Hidalgo, Texas and Reynosa, Mexico, the point where aid was seized from the 16th Pastors for Peace caravan one week ago today. Friends from the organization Amigos de Cuba and from the Center for Border Studies and Human Rights in Reynosa met us across the bridge with a big banner and an enthusiastic group of about 40 people. We walked across the bridge together, chanting and praying and making a ‘joyful noise.’ We also passed out flyers to hundreds of passers-by at the bridge. The story was broadcast on several local TV networks, and got big positive coverage – with four color photos! – in the McAllen Monitor.


Also on Wednesday 7/27, solidarity vigils and rallies were held in a number of cities, including Portland, OR; Helena, MT; and New York City.

In Portland, more than 25 people from a number of different organizations gathered at the Federal Building, with signs saying "No Computer Left Behind."

In New York, a press conference was held on the steps of City Hall, which was attended by City Council members Charles Barron and Margarita Lopez, and a staff member for Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY). Statements by Reps. Serrano, Nydia Velasquez, and Charles Rangel (see below) were read at the press conference. A vigil at the Federal Plaza followed, with 60 people participating.

A statement by Rev. Lucius Walker was read at a July 26 rally in Mexico City; 10,000 people marched and 2000 remained for the rally, which had a strong focus on support for the Pastors for Peace caravan.

We have even gotten word from Lutheran Pastor Ricardo Cornejo that a vigil was held yesterday in El Salvador! Comunidades de Fe y Vida (COFEVI) held a vigil in the Civic Plaza across from the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador, against CAFTA and in support of Pastors for Peace.

Meanwhile we hear that the caravanistas in Cuba are having a wonderful program. Today they are visiting four rural provinces; tomorrow morning they return to Havana and will hold a big press conference.

Communities all around the country are phonebanking and planning future Wednesday vigils and events.

CONGRESSIONAL:
Members of the House of Representatives are making their voices heard: Reps. Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) and Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez appealing for release of the aid.

After describing the seizure, they said, These harsh actions came just two weeks after Hurricane Dennis struck Cuba and caused widespread suffering. ... We call on you, Mr. Secretary, to show compassion and permit the release of this computer equipment, so that the entire shipment may successfully reach Cuba.

With your help, this year’s Pastors for Peace caravan can complete its humanitarian mission to alleviate the hardship of the Cuban people during their time of great need.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) also issued a strong statement (which is posted earlier on this blog). It says in part:

“It is time to put politics aside and ease restrictions to allow Pastors for Peace to continue on their humanitarian mission and to allow all Americans to exercise their compassion toward their brothers and sisters.

If the Bush Administration does not wish to help the people of Cuba, I appeal to them to get out of the way. Let others prove the compassion that the administration has often claimed as its own.”

Dozens of other members of the House of Representatives have been contacted by our network and are demanding the release of the computers and that all the aid be allowed to Cuba.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE CONTINUE PUTTING PRESSURE ON CONGRESS – NOT JUST THE HOUSE, BUT YOUR SENATORS TOO! (Congressional switchboard: 202/225-3121)

WHAT COMES NEXT:
Even as we continue the struggle for the aid seized by the US government, we must also prepare for the return of the caravan. Given the US government's overreaction when we crossed the border last week, we have to prepare for the strong possibility that they will overreact again when the 140 travel challengers return! We are expecting them to cross the border Monday morning at about 9:00am. Last year Homeland Security had 140 agents to meet us when the caravan returned to the US. This year, the Lord only knows what we can expect.

That's why we need to mobilize:

COME TO THE BORDER : If you are within easy driving distance, we ask you to come to the border to be a welcoming presence when the caravan returns. Contact Mark LaMalfa, who is coordinating arrangements here in Hidalgo: 646/245-9931.

STAND BY TO DO EMERGENCY RESPONSE IN THE EVENT OF A CONFRONTATION ON MONDAY.

KEEP CALLING COMMERCE; KEEP CALLING CONGRESS; HELP GET SIGNATURES FOR THE PASTORAL LETTER ASKING FOR RELEASE OF THE COMPUTERS; KEEP GETTING THE WORD OUT!

Thanks for your wonderful work!

¡ New York Presente!


New Yorkers gathered at the Federal Building Foley Square in solidarity with the vigil on the international bridge in Hidalgo/Reynosa on July 26th.

They passed out hundreds of flyers calling for an end to the blockade and released seven white doves as a symbol of freedom and passage of the aid.

New York City Supporters

New York City Council members Charles Barron and Margarita Lopez (center) at a press conference held on July 26, callling for an end to the harrassment of Pastos for Peace at the border and for passage of the aid.
They were joined by Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, Rosita Romero of the Dominican Women’s Development Center, Vicente Panama Alba, Puerto Rican activist,and members of the Iglesia San Romero de las Américas.

Prayer Vigil - Let the Aid Go to Cuba!

Rev. Luis Barrios, pastor of Iglesia San Romero de las Américas in New York City, and board member of IFCO/Pastors for Peace during the prayer vigil at the Hidalgo/Reynosa International Bridge on July 26, 2005. Pastors for Peace was joined by dozens of Mexican activists on the bridge for the vigil.

Prayer Vigil US-Mexico Border


Pastors for Peace members were joined by dozens of our Mexican supporters on
July 26,2005 at the Hildago-Reynosa International Bridge.

July 28, News Update from Hidalgo

July 28, News Update from Hidalgo

Members of the Pastors for Peace Caravan held a prayer vigil yesterday along the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, between Texas and Mexico, calling for the release of 43 boxes of humanitarian aid seized by Customs last Thursday. The vigil was attended by numerous members of local US and Mexican organizations. Solidarity vigils were held in cities across the country. At a press conference in New York, Congressman Charles Rangel issued a statement in support of the Caravan, stating that “with thousands of Cuban men, women and children in need, it is unconscionable that we would waste resources, which could be applied to the war on terrorism, to harass peace-loving, non-violent people whose only desire is to help where help is needed.” Today marks one-week since the confiscation, and Pastors for Peace has yet to receive any word as to if and when the aid will be released. 9 Caravan members remain in Hidalgo, TX, fighting for the release of the aid. The group now prepares for the re-entry and reverse challenge of the approximate 120-member Caravan, which returns to the US from Cuba on Monday.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Statement of support from Congresspersons Serrano and Velazquez

You can read a statement of support for the caravan from US Congresspersons José Serrano and Nydia Velázquez at
http://www.ifconews.org/Cuba/caravan16/documents/
letterfrom_Serrano_and_Velazquez.pdf

commentary from Rev. Walker

Common Dreams recently published a powerful commentary from Rev. Lucius Walker on the $50,000 offer the Bush administration made to the people of Cuba after the devastation caused by Hurricane Dennis (which caused an estimated at $1.4 billion in damages and left 150,000 people homeless).
You can find this article online at http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0725-32.htm

One Page Caravan Summary

144 members of the 16th US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravan are currently in Cuba, and most of the 140 tons of aid they collected is on its way to the island. But seven members of that caravan are camped out on the Mexican border in Hidalgo, Texas, and are mounting a national campaign to win the release of the remaining aid that was seized by the US government last week.

Pastors for Peace, a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), has been organizing its Friendshipment Caravans since 1992. These caravans have delivered 2500 tons of aid, collected by volunteers in communities and congregations all across the US, to Cuba. All of that aid has been delivered to Cuba without requesting or accepting a license from the US government. The purpose of the project is to educate the US public about the realities of Cuba and US/Cuba policy, to give them an opportunity to participate in direct hands-on solidarity, and to work toward an end to the US blockade and normalization of relations of Cuba.

We do not accept a license as a matter of deeply held moral principle. We are called to be good Samaritans, to offer a cup of cold water to our neighbors in need. We refuse to be complicit with the brutal economic blockade that seeks to starve our neighbors into submission, which has used food and medicine as a weapon of war, said Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.

The first six Friendshipment Caravans were met with severe repression by the US Treasury Department. Under instructions from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which has held responsibility for enforcement of sanctions against Cuba, aid and vehicles were confiscated; caravanistas were arrested and detained. Caravan participants responded with several long and dramatic campaigns of organized nonviolent resistance. They engaged in a 23-day hunger strike aboard a little yellow school bus in Laredo, TX in 1993, and a 93-day "fast for life" for the release of 400 seized computers which were to be used for a medical information network in Cuba.

Since that lengthy fast in 1996, Pastors for Peace has been able to take countless computers to Cuba as part of its caravans. OFAC appeared to understand that the Pastors were acting on the basis of spiritual conviction, and that they posed no threat to US security; and they have allowed all of the caravan aid to cross without resistance since 1996.

Last week, when the 16th caravan arrived at the Hidalgo/Reynosa border, they learned that enforcement responsibility concerning the goods had been shifted from OFAC to the Department of Commerce. Acting on instructions from the Commerce Department, 45 US Customs officers in Hidalgo, TX searched the first two buses which came to the border, opened all the boxes marked as "educational supplies," and confiscated 43 boxes of aid " toner cartridges, cables, modems, two printers, two scanners, scientific calculators, and a dozen used donated computers.

Rather than risk losing the rest of the computers, the caravan regrouped, unloaded and reorganized the aid in the seven remaining large vehicles (school buses and box trucks), so that the remaining 75 boxes of computers and computer-related items were all on one bus. Then all of the other vehicles returned to the border, were searched by the Customs officers, one by one, and allowed to pass. By daybreak, the whole caravan had crossed the border “ except for the one school bus loaded with computers. 144 caravanistas are currently in Cuba, but seven of them have stayed behind with the last bus, and are camped out at the border to launch a national campaign to win the release of the computers and send them to Cuba.

We have since heard that an order was given from a very high level of the Bush administration that this year's Pastors for Peace caravan was not to be allowed to pass. For this reason, the fact that most of the caravan is now in Cuba is a major victory. But caravan members who are also traveling without a US government license -- are preparing to face US government reprisals when they return to the US on August 1.

And the campaign to free the computers continues to build momentum, with growing grassroots and Congressional support (particularly from members of the Congressional Black Caucus).

Pastors for Peace is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), an ecumenical agency based in Harlem which has been working for social, racial and economic justice since 1967.

Statement Congressman Charles Rangel D-NY

STATEMENT
CONGRESSMAN CHARLES RANGEL
Contact: Emile Milne 202 225-4365 July 27, 2005

Congressman Rangel's Message to President Bush
On the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba

"IF YOU WON'T HELP, GET OUT OF THE WAY"

For the past decade, Rev. Lucius Walker and supporters of Pastors for Peace have taken caravans of humanitarian supplies to Cuba without interference from the U.S. government. It is shameful that this year, in the wake of the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Dennis, their mission is being thwarted by an outdated and unreasonable U.S. policy.


Hurricane Dennis was a disastrous force that killed 16 people on the island, destroyed hundreds buildings and homes and left Cuba with $1.4 billion in property damage. President Bush offered the Cuban government an embarrassingly meager $50,000 in disaster relief. This amount is not nearly enough to even begin to address the needs of the millions of Cubans who have been left without food, clean water, electricity, and shelter.

Once again, Pastors of Peace have attempted to step into the breach, mobilizing a caravan of badly needed medical and dental equipment and a range of humanitarian supplies. As they attempted to cross the border into Mexico from Texas, the caravan was stopped and searched. A total of 12 computers, which were destined for schools on the island were confiscated and are now being held by our government on the claim that the items were unlicensed.

The incident took place despite the fact that Pastors for Peace has never sought a license for any of its previous shipments to Cuba, and the fact that organizations which support the U.S. embargo policy regular send such equipment to dissident groups within Cuba.

With the rest of the goods having already arrived in Cuba, Rev. Walker has begun a vigil on a school bus on the Mexican border awaiting the government's decision on what to do with the computers.

With thousands of Cuban men, women and children in need, it is unconscionable that we would waste resources, which could be applied to the war on terrorism, to harass peace-loving, non-violent people whose only desire is to help where help is needed.

While legislative business requires that I remain in Washington, I commend Councilman Barron for calling us together. I also join with my colleague, Cong. Jose Serrano, who has introduced legislation urging the administration to temporarily suspend the embargo so as to allow Cuban Americans and other Americans to send or deliver assistance of their own. The embargo places severe restrictions on all U.S. travel to Cuba, including cruel limitations of visits and remittances by Cuban Americans to their relatives on the island.

I have long opposed the U.S. government's failed policy that harms the people of Cuba, and works against the promotion of democracy on the island. It also denies citizens of the United States the fundamental right to travel where they want and now restricts Cuban Americans the right to help their suffering family members.

It is time to put politics aside and ease restrictions to allow Pastors for Peace to continue on their humanitarian mission and to allow all Americans to exercise their compassion toward their brothers and sisters.

If the Bush Administration does not wish to help the people of Cuba, I appeal to them to get out of the way. Let others prove the compassion that the administration has often claimed as its own.

###

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

pictures from last Thursday's crossing

pictures of the seizing of caravan aid by US authories during last Thursday's attempted crossing are now available at the Pastors for Peace website - just go to http://www.ifconews.org/Cuba/caravan16/photos.htm (or click on "photos" under the "2005 Cuba Caravan" menu bar)

Prayer Vigil on Wednesday July 27, 4:30 pm

We will be holding a Prayer Vigil On Wednesday, July 27, at 4:30 p.m. at the International Bridge in the Hidalgo-Reynosa border.

The vigil, which will take place nearly one week after the Dept. of Commerce seized a significant portion of the humanitarian aid we were taking to Cuba. Our purpose is to make a call for people of conscience to demand that the aid be released by US authorities and be allowed to continue on its way to Cuba. Our delegation will be joined by supporters from both sides of the border, including Amigos de Cuba and The Center for Border Studies and Human Rights in Mexico. Local churches, solidarity groups and individuals from McAllen, Reynosa and the surrounding communities will also be participating.

WE NEED YOU!!
Please join us at the border, or organize your own solidarity vigil/rally in your own community. Actions ideally will take place every Wednesday until the aid is released.

Please also continue calling your congressional representatives and the Commerce Department in order to demand that the aid be released, that the Caravan be allowed to proceed to Cuba, and that the United States no longer prohibit this or any other humanitarian aid from reaching communities in need. With your help our presence is being felt, and we must keep the pressure on.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Urgent Action Alert

Urgent Action!!

AID DESTINED FOR CHILDREN IN CUBA SEIZED BY U.S. CUSTOMS
Call the Department of Commerce and Demand The Release of the Aid!

On Thursday July 21st, US Customs and Border Protection officers, acting on instructions from the US Department of Commerce, seized 43 boxes of computer equipment – toner, cables, calculators, modems, keyboards, 2 printers, and a dozen computers – intended for Cuban children from the 16th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan. A group of seven caravanistas have remained on the U.S./Mexico border in Hidalgo, Texas to build an international campaign to free the computer equipment for delivery to Cuba.

Each year, the Pastors for Peace Caravan delivers hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid and good will to our neighbor nation Cuba. But this year, according to reliable sources, the order came from high up in the Bush Administration to stop Pastors for Peace from delivering the aid. In fact, most of the 11-vehicle/150 member caravan crossed the border early Friday morning after an extended search of the almost 140 tons of humanitarian aid.

However, the struggle is not over yet—We Need Your Help!

"We are committed to delivering the computers donated by generous US citizens to Cuban children with special needs; and we ask for your help, immediately. At a time when Homeland Security personnel are needed for serious anti-terror surveillance, the fact that they would use 45 of their
officers to stop Pastors from donating toner, cables and calculators is a wasteful misuse of public resources," said Reverend Lucius Walker, founder and director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.


HOW YOU CAN HELP!

• Call your congressional representative and your senators (202-225-3121); urge them to personally call Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce and insist that he let the computers go!

• Call Michael D. Turner, Director of Export Enforcement for the Department of Commerce and insist that the computers be released. 202.482.1208, Ext. 3

• Call Wendy Wysong, Assistant Secretary of Commerce, for Export
Enforcement, and insist that the computers be released and allowed to continue to Cuba. 202.482.3618

• Ask your church or congregation to sign on to our Pastoral Letter in support of releasing the aid and allowing it to continue on to Cuba (available soon on our website).

• Organize a solidarity prayer vigil on Wednesday, July 27.

Our Prayer Vigil will be taking place on the Hidalg-Reynosa International Bridge, Wednesday, 4:30- 6:30pm

• Hold a Rally at the Federal Building in your town to demand the release of the computers.

For more information, visit the Pastors For Peace website,

www.pastorsforpeace.org

Caravan Visits Medical School in Havana

We have received word that the caravan visited the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana today.
As many of you know, Cuba has extended 500 full scholarships to US students who commit to serving in medically underserved areas in the US upon graduation. Full details of the program can be found on the front page of our website.

McAllen Texas Monitor Front Page Editorial

The Monitor


The Ban on Cuba Travel:

Embargo hurts ordinary Cubans, not government
July 24, 2005

The Monitor View

With Mexico in much closer proximity to the Rio Grande Valley than Cuba, it would be easy for most South Texans to forget that its people suffer under a brutal dictatorship. The lack of political and economic freedom on that island make life miserable for the vast majority of its inhabitants — and the United States, with its economic and travel restrictions, adds to Cubans’ misery.

Valley residents saw a reminder of this again last week when U.S. Customs agents held up the annual Pastors for Peace caravan at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge. Every year, the group transports humanitarian and medical supplies from donors across the United States to Cuba via Mexico. But because of the embargo, Customs stops the group nearly every time.


Officials halted the convoy of eight buses, two cars and one truck Thursday, declaring their intention to intensively search all the vehicles. Customs agents allowed two buses to pass into Mexico, but only after they confiscated calculators, computers and other electronic devices.

Anna Perez, a member of the delegation from Oakland, Calif., said the caravan was stuck on the Hidalgo side of the bridge from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday. The group then spent the night putting all the electronics on one vehicle. Some of the delegation remained with the computer equipment, and the rest took the medical supplies across the border; Perez said it took Pastors for Peace about nine hours to clear the Mexican side of the border Friday. The caravan was headed to Tampico, and from there to Cuba with the medical supplies. They hope to eventually get the electronics there as well.

"We have not given up on the computers, because the computers were meant to go to a number of elementary schools in Cuba," Perez said Friday afternoon.

We wish them a safe journey. We also wish it didn’t nearly take an act of Congress — Perez said the delegation received a number of phone calls from U.S. representatives as news of the border delay spread — to get them on their way. The United States has no business restricting the travel of its citizens in this matter.

We’re no fans of the Castro regime, which imprisons political dissidents and journalists while ignoring human rights. But we don’t believe the economic blockade serves any purpose other than garnering votes from Cuban exiles in South Florida — in fact, the embargo allows the Cuban dictator to wrongly blame that nation’s problems on the United States.

It’s not like the U.S. government has been consistent in its actions toward Pastors for Peace. In 1998, for example, federal agents waved their caravan through.

"We’ve been dealing with them for nine years, and we know (the supplies) are going to a non-governmental agency for distribution, so it’s really not a problem," David Higgerson, then U.S. Customs port director in Hidalgo, told The Monitor in a July 21, 1998, story.


We agree. By delaying the caravan of medical and humanitarian supplies at the border, the U.S. government has shown the arbitrariness of the embargo on Cuba.

It’s time to end this fruitless blockade.


Media Advisory

MEDIA ADVISORY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JULY 25, 2005
CONTACTS: IFCO/PASTORS FOR PEACE:
IN HIDALGO, TX: Ellen Bernstein: 646/319-5902 (cell)
IN NEW YORK: Lucia Bruno 212/926-5757 (office)

CAMPAIGN TO FREE COMPUTERS FOR CUBA GAINS MOMENTUM

The campaign to send to Cuba a number of donated computers that were seized by the US government on Thursday July 21 continues to gain momentum.

On Monday July 25, the Pastors for Peace caravanistas in Hidalgo, TX plan to visit the office of US Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), who represents McAllen and Hidalgo, to appeal for his support. They also plan to return to the border to ask for the release of the computers and computer equipment that were seized from their caravan on Friday.

The 16th US/Cuba Friendshipment caravan organized by IFCO/Pastors for Peace collected 140 tons of humanitarian aid for Cuba from 130 local communities in the US and Canada. Nearly all of that aid crossed the US border into Mexico just before daybreak on July 22. But US Customs officers, acting on the orders of the US Commerce Department, seized a dozen computers and a number of boxes of computer accessories such as printers, modems, and cables. 143 members of the Pastors for Peace caravan are currently in Cuba; seven members have stayed behind in Hidalgo, TX to win the release of the seized computers.

The theme of the 16th Friendshipment caravan is “special needs.” The computers are intended for use in classrooms for Cuban children with special needs such as visual impairments or learning disabilities.

Since 1992, IFCO/Pastors for Peace has organized 16 caravans to Cuba, which have delivered more than 2500 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba. As a matter of principle, Pastors for Peace refuses to request or accept a license for these aid shipments from the US Treasury Department, because they do not want to be complicit with the immoral US economic blockade of Cuba. In 1996, the US government seized 400 computers which the 6th Pastors for Peace caravan was attempting to deliver to Cuba, to form the basis for a system to share medical information and inventory medicines in Cuban hospitals. Five members of the caravan engaged in a 93-day fast, and after an enormous international campaign, the computers were eventually released to go to Cuba.

“Since 1996, we have been able to take computers to Cuba every year as a part of our caravans,” said Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. “OFAC [the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department, which has had primary responsibility for enforcement of US sanctions against Cuba] understood that we were acting on the basis of sound moral principles. Now the White House has shifted enforcement responsibilities to the Commerce Department, with instructions to stop Pastors for Peace from crossing the border this year. In light of this, our resolve must be deeper and stronger than ever. We are going to have to fight to get these computers across the border and on to Cuba, and we will have to be prepared for even more confrontation when the rest of our caravan returns from Cuba.”

On Sunday, the caravanistas in Hidalgo participated in worship services in four area churches, and worked on local and national outreach. Grassroots and Congressional support for their campaign continues to grow.

The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) is a national ecumenical agency based in Harlem which was founded in 1967 to work for racial, social, and economic justice. Pastors for Peace is a project of IFCO that was founded in 1988 after IFCO’s executive director was wounded in a contra attack in Nicaragua.

Photos and audio of the caravan are available for download at www.pastorsforpeace.org.



##

At the Border in Hidalgo


Father Luis Barrios, Rev. Walker and Ellen Bernstein at the border with the remaining aid for Cuba. They need our support as they contact congress members and the media. Calling your local media and any other media contacts will help bring attention to the situation in Hidalgo and hasten the release of the seized aid. Calls to the offices listed in the posts (below) and getting the press release (above)out to our press contacts are of prime importance.

Lucia

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Largest Group of Caravan Arrives in Cuba

The first and largest group of the Caravan has arrived in Cuba!
They are all safe and sound and on the ground!

I spoke to Ellen Bernstein this morning. She informed me that the Caravan group in Texas received a call from Cuba last night. She says the Caravan arrived and participated in a welcoming ceremony in Cuba yesterday.

Rev. Walker, Father Barrios. Ellen, and a few other Caravanistas and their Texas supporters remain at the border with the remaining aid. They are well supported and elated at the support and press coverage we are receiving so far. Keep up the good work!

We will post more details as we get them.

Lucia Bruno
Communications Director
IFCO/Pastors for Peace
New York