Wednesday, August 03, 2005

UN panel concludes trial of Cuban Five unfair

A U.N. human rights group has concluded that the trial in Miami and subsequent imprisonment of the Cuban Five was unfair.

Available online at http://www.americas.org/item_20571
Originally published by the Miami Herald at http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/
news/world/americas/12136738.htm

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Update and Action Alert- August 2, 2005

UPDATE AND ACTION ALERT FROM HIDALGO 8/2/05

Our caravan has come home from Cuba! We are celebrating a great victory: yesterday afternoon our 16th Friendshipment caravan, after returning from Cuba to Mexico, successfully crossed the International Bridge from Reynosa, MX into Hidalgo, TX. But there is still no word about the release of the computers seized from the caravan's cargo last week.

The campaign to free the computers continues this week, with the added energy of all the caravanistas who have just come home from Cuba.

The energy and motivation of the caravanistas were very high when they returned from Cuba to Tampico, MX, and traveled to the border town of Reynosa, and again as they assembled early Monday morning to prepare for their reverse challenge against the blockade.

As the caravanistas crossed the International Bridge in two school buses, supporters of the caravan in Reynosa accompanied them across the bridge, chanting "Cuba si, bloqueo no!" And supporters and media waited on the US side for their return.

Homeland Security agents spent nearly three hours interrogating caravan participants about the details of their trip and two more hours searching every item of their personal luggage. In their interrogations, the Immigration agents were especially hard on our international participants.

As a part of its reverse challenge of US sanctions against Cuba, the caravan brought back these Cuban items:

Bibles, given as a gift from the Cuban Council of Churches;
copies of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba;

copies of a book entitled And You Will Be My Witnesses... about evangelization and mission in the Cuban churches; and

copies of a book about Operation Miracle: a project of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health through which Cuban doctors, working free of charge, have restored the sight of thousands of Venezuelans who had gone blind because of cataracts.

In the end, nothing was seized from the caravanistas, and all of them are back home in the US.

Given that the US government was committed to completely stopping us this year, we consider that the return of the caravan was a total victory for us. It is clear that public outrage over the seizure of the computers last week, as well as outrage over the items that were seized from the caravanistas last year (a paper flag on a stick! maracas! plastic honey bears!), forced the US government to back down when we met them at the border.

BUT THE COMPUTERS ARE STILL HERE IN HIDALGO; AND WE ARE STILL COMMITTED TO STAYING UNTIL THE 43 SEIZED BOXES ARE RELEASED AND ALL THE AID IS ABLE TO GO ON TO CUBA.

Several members of our Hidalgo team have had to head home; we are very grateful to them for their great work. Now several of the returning caravanistas are staying on with us in Hidalgo to join the team. And we are going to keep on organizing: national and local outreach, media work, congressional work, and all the rest. We are planning another Wednesday prayer vigil on the Hidalgo/Reynosa International Bridge. We have heard that new cities including Concord, NH, and Duluth and Minneapolis, MN are also planning vigils tomorrow. We call you to join us.

August 2 is the 17th anniversary of the contra attack on the passenger ferry Mission of Peace in Nicaragua in which Rev. Lucius Walker was wounded. August 3 is the 17th anniversary of the founding of our project Pastors for Peace. It is also the 75th birthday of our fearless (and prophetic) leader Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr. We remember the days when Pastors for Peace was new; it was conceived as a special ministry to the victims of US foreign policy. Look how far the project has come since its founding! Surely we have organized 50 caravans by now, to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Chiapas, and of course to Cuba.

Once an IFCO staff member asked Lucius whether our office would be open on Dr Martin Luther King Day. He responded, "If Dr King were alive, he would want us to be working on his birthday -- and to be doing just the kind of work we do." We ask you to help commemorate this anniversary/birthday in just that way: Let's redouble our efforts and get those computers to Cuba! Here's how you can help:"

Hold a vigil in your community to call for release of the seized aid! We are organizing vigils every Wednesday in Hidalgo on the International Bridge; let us know what public events you are planning.

Keep making phone calls to insist that the seized computer equipment be released and that all of the computer equipment in our caravan be allowed to go to Cuba:

PLEASE CALL the Cuba desk at the State Department, 202/647-9273. (They are going through a transition in staff; talk with whoever is available.)

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

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

PLEASE KEEP CALLING CONGRESS. CALL 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 are 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.

Those of you who want to support this extraordinary and unplanned organizing campaign can also send your donations to IFCO, 402 W. 145th Street, NY, NY 10031.

There is tremendous excitement about this campaign! Thanks for everything you are doing to make it successful.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Pastors for Peace Celebrates Another Victory!

Please Circulate

MEDIA ADVISORY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – AUGUST 1, 2005
PASTORS FOR PEACE CARAVAN
CELEBRATES SUCCESSFUL RETURN;
CAMPAIGN TO SEND SEIZED COMPUTERS TO CUBA CONTINUES


Pastors for Peace announced a partial victory today
when its 16th caravan crossed the International Bridge from Reynosa, MX into Hidalgo, TX after returning from Cuba. But there is still no word about release of the computers seized from the caravan's cargo last week.

The caravanistas' energy and motivation were
very high last night when they returned from Cuba to Reynosa, MX, and then assembled this morning for their 'reverse challenge' to the US blockade against Cuba.

As the caravanistas crossed the International
Bridge in two school buses, supporters of the caravan in Reynosa accompanied them across the bridge, chanting "Cuba si,bloqueo no!"

Homeland Security officers spent nearly three
hours interrogating caravan participants about the details of their trip, and two more hours searching every item of their personal luggage. But in the end,nothing was seized from the caravanistas, and all of them are back home in the US.

"Given that the US government was committed
to completely stopping us this year, today really was a total victory for us," said Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. "It is clear that public outrage over the seizure of the computers last week,as well as the outrage over the items that were seized from us last year, forced the US government to back down when we met them at the border today."

Nearly 140 tons of aid for Cuba crossed the
border when the caravan left the US last week. But US Customs agents, acting on orders of the US Commerce Department, seized 43 boxes of aid containing toner cartridges, cables, keyboards, modems, and about a dozen second-hand computers. Another 75 boxes of computer-related aid remain in Hidalgo, TX, along with a small team of caravanistas organizing a growing national campaign to win the release of the seized aid for delivery to Cuba. The campaign to free the computers continues this week, with the added energy of all the caravanistas who have just come home from Cuba.

As a part of its 'reverse challenge' of US sanctions
against Cuba, the caravan brought back these Cuban items:

--Bibles, given as a gift from the Cuban Council of Churches;

--copies of the Cuban constitution;

--copies of a book entitled And You Will Be My
Witnesses about evangelization and mission in the Cuban churches; and

--copies of a book about Operation Miracle: a project
of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health through which Cuban doctors, working free of charge, have restored the sight of thousands of Venezuelans who had gone blind because of cataracts.

"This trip to Cuba had tremendous significance," said
Rev.Thomas Smith, president of the board of directors of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and pastor of the Monumental Baptist church in Pittsburgh, PA. "Every time we visit Cuba we're breaking the information blockade."

As a matter of moral principle, Pastors for Peace refuses
to request or accept a license from the US government to travel to Cuba or to deliver humanitarian aid to that island nation.

"Cuba is not our enemy, and Cuba is not a threat. We
refuse to be complicit with the aim of the Bush administration to force Cuba into adopting a so-called 'free-market' economy that would be dominated by US interests," said Rev. Walker.

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


As we moved on to the International Bridge in Reynosa, we were not sure what to expect. Posted by Picasa


Spirits were high as we approached the border! Posted by Picasa


Customs officials received the Caravan when we crossed the border into the US. Posted by Picasa


Waiting to pass through customs. Posted by Picasa

One More Victory For Pastors for Peace!

We have broken the blockade one more time! After three hours, all of the Caravanistas have passed through Customs and are on their way home! Nothing was seized! More details will be posted soon.

UPDATE FROM THE BORDER 1:15 PM EDT

UPDATE FROM THE BORDER

Details are still limited because cell phone use is prohibited in the Customs area.

The Caravan reached the Hidalgo-Reynosa border over two hours ago. They were received by a large number of border officials who escorted them into the customs building, where they are currently being questioned by customs officials. Many are being asked for social security numbers and other personal information.

Reports from family members who were able to briefly speak with loved ones, indicate that Caravanistas who were not born in the US are being questioned in much more detail.

The busses filled with their luggage were directed into a holding area. It appears that after all of the individuals are processed, Customs officials will begin the process of searching luggage. But we don't know that for sure.

We will post more information as soon as we get it. Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Pastors Face Major Battle on Return From Cuba

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- JULY 31, 2005

CONTACTS: IFCO/PASTORS FOR PEACE

IN HIDALGO, TX:
Ellen Bernstein 646/319-5902, 646/319-5904, 917/623-5873
IN NEW YORK:
Lucia Bruno 212/926-5757 (office)

MAJOR BATTLE FACES PASTORS FOR PEACE CARAVAN ON RETURN FROM CUBA
Participants face US reprisals and possible arrests for challenging ban on travel to Cuba

WHERE: HIDALGO/REYNOSA INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE, AT THE TX/MX BORDER
WHEN: MONDAY AUGUST 1, STARTING AT 9:30am

130 US residents are bracing themselves to face US enforcement agents -- even the possibility of arrests -when they return from Cuba and re-enter the US with the 16th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan. They will be crossing the International Bridge from Reynosa, Mexico into Hidalgo,Texas and will re-enter the US at about 9:30am on August 1.

"We have heard that an order was given from a very high level of the Bush administration to stop Pastors for Peace this year," said Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, from Hidalgo. "Given the pathological obsession of the Bush administration with anything that has to do with Cuba, and given their over-reaction to our caravan on its way to Cuba, we must expect an even greater challenge from them on the way back."

When last year's caravan came home, there were more federal agents on hand to meet them at the Hidalgo border than there were caravanistas. The enforcement agents were from Immigration, Customs, OFAC [the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department], Border Patrol, and Treasury. They interrogated every caravan participant, searched every single piece of personal luggage, and confiscated such controversial items as a paper flag on a stick, a book of poetry, and a pair of maracas. This year the federal authorities are acting under new orders, so the caravan has to be prepared for an even harder confrontation.

As a matter of moral principle, Pastors for Peace refuses to request or accept a license from the US government to travel to Cuba or to deliver humanitarian aid to that island nation. "Cuba is not our enemy, and Cuba is not a threat. We refuse to be complicit with the aim of the Bush administration to force Cuba into adopting a so-called 'free-market' economy that would be dominated by US interests," said Rev. Walker.

"All of the members of the caravan are committed to challenging the blockade against Cuba, as an act of 'civil obedience,'" said IFCO/Pastors for Peace board member Rev. Luis Barrios. "We are obeying the law that says 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' We are prepared to face reprisals as we stand up for our moral convictions."

The Pastors for Peace caravan is challenging the ban on travel to Cuba in coordination with several other US organizations, including 60 members of the Venceremos Brigade, which are also currently in Cuba and will also be returning to the US (from Canada into Buffalo, NY) on Monday August 1.

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 the aid crossed the US border into Mexico just before daybreak on July 22, but US Customs agents, acting on the orders of the US Commerce Department, seized 43 boxes of aid, containing computer accessories such as toner, printers, modems, and cables, and a dozen second-hand computers. Another 75 boxes of computer-related aid that were not allowed to cross the border remain in Hidalgo. Seven members of the caravan have remained in Hidalgo continuing a national campaign to win release of the humanitarian aid seized by the US government more than a week ago.

The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) is a national ecumenical agency based in Harlem, New York City, 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.

More information, including photos and audio clips, is available at www.pastorsforpeace.org. ##