Wednesday, August 3, 2011


At 4:15 pm on August 1st 2011, the 22nd Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba successfully crossed back into the U.S., completing the “reverse challenge” border crossing. Although the Friendshipment is a year-round project, this border crossing wraps up this year's caravan. In the last month, the caravan traveled on 13 routes across the U.S. and Canada, where they stopped in 130 cities, collected 100 tons of humanitarian aid for Cuba, gathered 108 participants, challenged the blockade at the U.S./Mexico border, spent nine days experiencing Cuba, and now have returned successfully into the U.S.

This last challenge of the caravan was carried out to enthusiastic chants of “Cuba si, bloqueo no!”, “Cuba is not our enemy” and “Lucius Walker vive, la lucha sigue, sigue!” while banners read “Love is our License” and “We don't want to imagine a world without Cuba!” Immigration officials tried to question caravanistas about their stay in Cuba; caravanistas exercised their constitutional rights and politely but firmly refused to answer their questions. After the crossing was completed, the seven computers which were seized by U.S. officials when the caravan crossed from the U.S. into Mexico were returned, and a group of caravanistas promptly walked them back across the border into Mexico, from where they will be shipped to Cuba.

While in Cuba, caravan participants were able to see the island for themselves through an exciting educational and cultural program. This year's caravan was dedicated to celebrating and honoring the achievements of Cuba's young people, and the program of the Caravan in Cuba highlighted their daily lives and experiences, as well as visits to organic gardens, health centers, urban and rural communities and schools.

“Our late founder, Rev. Lucius Walker, always said that U.S. foreign policy is much too important to be left in the hands of the State Department,” said Ellen Bernstein, acting co-director of IFCO. “With this project, we are enacting a 'people-to-people' foreign policy that is based in mutual respect and solidarity. We will continue reaching out to our Cuban sisters and brothers, without asking permission from the US government; and we will continue working to build the better world that we know is possible.”

IFCO acting co-director Rev. Thomas E. Smith affirmed, “Our caravans will continue with this challenge as long as the cruel and immoral blockade continues, and until the Cuban 5 political prisoners held in U.S. jails are freed!”

The Caravan to Cuba's reverse challenge coincides with two other Cuba travel challenges returning to the U.S. The Venceremos Brigade will be returning to the US on August 1st via Canada and another large travel challenge group will also be returning to Puerto Rico today.

This year's caravan was also a tribute to the life and spirit of Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., the founding director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, who for 20 years gave prophetic and visionary leadership to our caravans to Cuba in defiance of the US blockade. Rev. Walker died peacefully in September 2010.

The Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), which has been working for racial, social, and economic justice since 1967.

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