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Pastors for Peace delivers supplies to Cuba

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Unlike previous convoys carrying medical and educational supplies and food to Cuba, the eighth Pastors for Peace caravan has reached its destination without interference either from the U.S. government or from anti-Castro groups in the United States. Pastors for Peace is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.

The 160 men, women and children from the United States, Canada, Mexico and six countries of Europe, led by the Rev. Lucius Walker, delivered two ambulances, five mobile libraries, six school buses, two vans, a truck and 500 tons of medical supplies and food valued at $1 million.

Educational supplies include computers, printers, modems, scanners, projectors, laboratory equipment, musical instruments and Bibles. Medical items include fetal heart monitors, incubators, respirators, wheel chairs, eyeglasses, anticancer drugs, vitamins, analgesics and raw materials for the manufacture of antibiotics that are in desperately short supply because of the 37-year U.S. blockade.

This year’s caravan was dedicated to children and the elderly. The European delegation was led by 80-year-old Michael O’Riordan from Ireland and his granddaughter Jessica. Angry protests resulted in Ireland when it was reported that the U.S. Treasury had seized $1,960 sent to the foundation to purchase supplies. Leading Irish politicians and clergy had contributed to the fund. “This U.S. action verges on international piracy,” commented Proinsias de Rossa, leader of the Democratic Left in the Irish parliament.

Tempers cooled, however, when the Irish Times reported it believed the seizure resulted from a computer glitch, and the money would be released. The computer had recognized the word “Cuba” in the transfer instructions, and under the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act, no money can be sent from or via the United States to Cuba. But this money was designated to be spent, not in Cuba, but in the United States and Mexico. As a result of the publicity, another $3,090 has been deposited to the foundation account in the Dublin bank.

Starting out July 3, the caravan visited 140 U.S. cities in 42 states, picking up supplies and volunteers along the way. At McAllen, Texas, they paused three days for a course in nonviolence, anticipating challenges from U.S. border officials. On one previous occasion it took a hunger strike to get Washington to relent. The foundation refuses to ask for a permit to send humanitarian aid to Cuba on the ground that this would represent “a de facto acceptance of an immoral and unjust law.”

This year no problems were encountered at the border, nor was the group harassed by anti-Castro Cubans as on previous occasions. They had taken the precaution of getting an injunction against Alpha 66, its agents or co-conspirators, and the Cuban-American National Foundation. Last year, caravan volunteers received death threats and were physically assaulted by Alpha 66 members who vandalized several vehicles. One attacker was later convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

The 160 participants, however, are not necessarily home free. Under current U.S. law, they risk up to $1 million in fines and 10 years in prison for delivering this aid to Cuba.

The vehicles and supplies were handed over in Havana to the Martin Luther King Center, where the volunteers were housed and fed during their stay. While there, two of them celebrated their marriage, with Baptist Pastor Raul Suarez and a Catholic priest, a member of the group, officiating. A search among the supplies they had brought produced a pair of pretty white shoes for the flower girl.

National Catholic Reporter, August 14, 1998