Saturday, August 13, 2005

Latest news from the Pastors for Peace team on the road


Greetings and best wishes to all the Pastors for Peace network, from the team that is on the road from Hidalgo to the presidential ranch in Crawford, TX!

This is a somewhat belated note, for reasons you will see as you read further: we have been busy!

It's been suggested to us that we should mount a webcam on our bus, to make our journey more interactive, so that folks in our network can follow along. You should know that the people who are actually here on the road said no to that (and Bill Hill said "NO!!!") But I'll try to give you a flavor of where we are now and what we have been doing:

We are just pulling out of Corpus Christi, TX, after completing emergency infrastructure repairs to a fan belt and a dead cell phone. Bill is driving the Rene bus, which is loaded up with 118 blue-labeled boxes. Ellen is sitting on the bus, with my laptop plugged into the inverter, writing this message and talking on the new cell phone. Luis and Bob are caravanning behind the bus, and also networking by cell phone as they go. Lucius will be back with us tonight, after speaking at a great event in NYC last night. We all have our next stop in San Antonio, then Austin, where we will be doing more media outreach.

Our last couple of days in Hidalgo were very productive and full of good feeling. We held another wonderful weekly vigil on the international bridge on Wednesday afternoon. We opened with prayer and a reading from the 23rd psalm (though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me...), and then spent a very spirited two hours chanting (contra el bloqueo - si se puede!), and singing, and praying, and passing out flyers all along the international bridge. We were a strong presence with our banners and flyers and song, and we got lots of thumbs-up from passersby. We were joined by representatives of People for Peace and Justice (McAllen), Amigos de Cuba (Reynosa), and a group of university students.

Ellen left the vigil early to attend the monthly meeting of People for Peace and Justice.

Another piece of good news is that the local people from Hidalgo/Reynosa/McAllen have agreed to keep our vigils going even while we are out of town! Several of the organizations, which include Amigos de Cuba, the Centro Fronterizo por los Derechos Humanos (Reynosa), People for Peace and Justice, the Quakers and a variety of church folk, have not worked with each other before but are networking now around our project. This is yet another frequent and important side effect of our work!

We should also note that there is a lot of interest here in the Latin American School of Medicine scholarship program, and that we will be back as soon as time allows to do a local meeting to promote the scholarship offer.

We pulled out of Hidalgo yesterday in the early afternoon, after doing interviews with Univision TV and the Monitor newspaper. Then we drove to Corpus Christi, and had great interviews on three TV news channels, and then we left town! (Or tried to, until that fan belt busted...)

What we are telling everyone along the way is that we have had a great reception in Hidalgo, but we know that the decision about the computers will be made at the White House so that's where we are headed. We will be doing media work in San Antonio and Austin today. We are really looking forward to the time in Crawford. Of course we have also been following the Cindy Sheehan story; we will be honored to be set up camp alongside her anti-war protest when we get to Crawford, and we hear that they are also glad that we will be there.

We have heard that successful vigils were also held in about 20 cities this week across the US. One of them was in New York where over 120 people came to a meeting to hear a report back from some of the New York caravanistas (especially Esperanza and Lucius) as well as returning members of the Venceremos Brigade. The meeting ended with a spirited candlelight walk, chanting slogans against the blockade on the way, to the US mission to the United Nations where a prayer vigil was held.

Look at how the campaign is growing!

What we need you to do is: KEEP CALLING
To the offices in Washington which will be involved in making the decision to release the computers:

Jayson Ahern, Assistant Commissioner of Customs: 202/344-1620

Cuba Desk, State Department: 202/647-9273

Michael Turner, Director of Export Enforcement, Commerce Department: 202/482-1208, ext. 3

And to your congressional representatives and senators. Congress is officially in recess until early September, and you are more likely to find the members of Congress at their home offices than in DC. But talk to the key staff person, whether s/he is located in DC (federal legislative switchboard 202-225-3121) or in the district office. And then call again and again! We need the help of Congress to put serious pressure on the Bush administration. Get your representatives to put pressure on Carlos Gutierrez, the Secretary of Commerce, to demand that the computers be released. Organize a visit to your local Congressional offices if you can.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pastors for Peace Takes Protest on the Road!

Pastors for Peace Takes Protest on the Road
Campaign to Free Seized Aid Will Stop in Alice, San Antonio, Austin and Crawford Texas


A STATEMENT FROM IFCO/PASTORS FOR PEACE:

We are announcing a new phase in our strategy to win the release of the humanitarian aid that was seized from our sixteenth Pastors for Peace caravan to Cuba on July 21, 2005. After several weeks in Hidalgo, Texas, we are adding a new component, and will take our protest on the road, to visit a

series of US cities and build additional support for this campaign.

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, two printers, and a dozen computers, intended for use by Cuban children with special needs - from our Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba.

Despite an extended search of the almost 140 tons
of humanitarian aid, most of the 11-vehicle, 150 member caravan crossed the border and went on to Cuba. However, seven members stayed behind at the US/Mexican border in Hidalgo, Texas to begin the campaign to secure the release of the seized aid, as well as the free passage to Cuba of all the other
computers that we chose to leave behind rather than have them also seized.

In these past few weeks, we have established a strong
presence in the McAllen/Hidalgo area. We have made many friends in area churches and community groups, and have been greatly nurtured by their support.

We have received extensive local press coverage.
Just about everyone here knows who we are and why we are in town. But it is very clear to us that the decision to free the computers and send them on to Cuba is not going to be made here in Hidalgo.

We were told that the order to seize the computers was given from a very high level of government, as high as the White House. So one of our first stops, as we take our protest on the road, will be Mr. Bush’s backyard.

We will be using the next weeks to do intensive work to deepen and broaden our national base of support, to visit many of the cities which hosted the caravan on its way to Cuba, to do more media outreach, and to develop new educational materials about the mean-spirited nature of US/Cuba policy.

As frustrated as we are about the seizure of the aid, we know that we have been given an important opportunity to further educate the US people about the immorality, illegal and brutality of US policy toward Cuba.

Our first steps will be to travel north from Hidalgo and visit a number of cities in Texas where the Pastors for Peace caravan made stops on its way down to Cuba.


We plan to visit Alice, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston and other cities. And we are especially looking forward to visiting the ‘summer White House’ at Crawford, Texas. And then our journey will continue, with stops in many cities around the US, until we reach Washington, DC. And we will stay as long as necessary to win the right to send this aid to Cuba.

The US government is biding its time on this issue. They want to stall because they think that the US people will forget or lose interest.

We intend to keep this issue very much alive. We know that power never concedes without a struggle; we intend to keep the pressure on until the aid for Cuba is released.

A continuing presence will be maintained in Hidalgo while the caravan is on the road. Local supporters from the US and Mexico will maintain the weekly vigils on the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, every Wednesday, 6:00-8:00pm.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Organize a visit to the local office(s) of your congressional representative and senators. Congress is officially in recess until early September, and you are more likely to find the members of Congress at their home offices than in DC. But talk to the key staff person, whether s/he is located in DC (federal legislative switchboard 202-225-3121) or in the district office. And then call again and again!

We need the help of Congress to put serious pressure on the Bush administration. Get your representatives to put pressure on Carlos Gutierrez, the Secretary of Commerce, to demand that the computers be released.

Organize regular vigils in your community outside federal buildings. We already know of vigils being planned in the coming days in Albany, Ashland, Baltimore, Boise, Carbondale, Chicago, Dallas, Duluth, Fresno, Henderson,Indianapolis, Medford, New York, Portland, Sedgwick, Vancouver/Victoria and Yazoo City.

Your vigils and demonstrations increase the visibility of this campaign in your community and in the national media. If you are planning a vigil please let our office know! emailto: cucaravan@igc.org,tel 212-926-5757

Keep making calls to the offices in Washington which will be involved in making the decision to release the computers:

Jayson Ahern, Assistant Commissioner of Customs:

202/344-1620

Cuba Desk, State Department: 202/647-9273

Michael Turner, Director of Export Enforcement,

Commerce Department: 202/482-1208, ext. 3

Contribute Cash. We are involved in a major campaign and our funds are limited. The expenses are considerable and immediate, the need is both urgent and ongoing.

Please- send cash/check donations made out to IFCO at IFCO, 402 W. 145th Street, NY, NY 10031.

- or make an immediate payment by credit card by calling our office on 212-926-5757.

Because IFCO has 501(c)(3) tax status, your donation is deductible to the fullest extent provided by law.

Get signatures for our pastoral letter and our letter to Cuban Americans. If you know of any pastors, or Cuban Americans, who want to support this campaign please let us have their contact details and we will send them a copy of our pastoral letter or our letter to Cuban Americans. Send details to cucaravan@igc.org

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

“Our strength comes from prayers, our prayers are connected to actions, and, similar to Jesus, our actions are expressed with radical solidarity. This is our gift to the Cuban people. We, as the people of God recognize that the message is ‘Si se puede’. Since we believe that it is possible, no one and nothing is going to stop this struggle because we are building peace with justice,” said Fr. Luis Barrios, board member of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and full time professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City.

Pastors for Peace is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), an ecumenical agency founded in 1967 to work for racial, social, and economic justice.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Happy 75th Birthday Lucius!