43 Years of Continued Struggle for Peace and Justice
For more than four decades, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) has assisted hundreds of community organizations and public policy groups --by providing technical assistance, training organizers, making and administering grants, and using our global network of grassroots organizers, clergy, and other professionals to advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination.
IFCO's mission is to support the poor and disenfranchised in developing and sustaining community organizations to fight human and civil rights injustices. In pursuit of this mission, IFCO promotes, funds and coordinates domestic and international community development efforts -programs designed to improve people's own communities.
The first national foundation controlled by people of color, IFCO has acted as a bridge between predominantly mainline churches and community groups conceived of and run by people of color; as a broker for the channeling of interdenominational support; and as a resource bank supporting the work of congregations and organizations engaged in the work of community-building. IFCO has acted as a monitor, supporting self-determination by the poor, the hungry, and the exploited and insuring that their needs are not sacrificed for the priorities of the privileged in American society. IFCO has acted as a catalyst and a conscience in the movement for social justice.
We proudly share with you highlights of our history
1967: IFCO, the first and only national ecumenical foundation committed exclusively to the support of community organizing, opened its first office at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City.
1968: The IFCO Board adopted "criteria" for the funding of community-based community organizing projects, as an expression of the mission of the churches.
Recognizing the need for a self-sufficient vehicle for fundraising within the black community, IFCO incorporated the National Black United Fund and supported the organizing of local Black United Funds such as the Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade.
With urban unrest at an all-time high, IFCO joined in implementing Operation Connection, which sent traveling resource teams of activists and church and business leaders into the cities to open dialogue and work through alternatives to violent confrontation.
Native American and Hispanic American task forces were established, as well as an International Task Force to explore support for African liberation movements.
IFCO began plans for a National Black Economic Development Conference.
1969: The National Black Economic Development Conference was a resounding success. The conference produced repeated cries for black economic self-determination, and repeated criticism of piecemeal and paternalistic economic programs. Among the many products of this historic conference was the Black Manifesto, presented by James Forman, which asked for $500 million dollars in reparations to the black community from white churches and synagogues. The Manifesto stimulated much critical discussion about the churches' responsibility to Black America.
IFCO's high visibility, its nationalist stance in support of black empowerment, and the high energy and effectiveness of the many groups it funded prompted an organized campaign against IFCO which resulted in the targeting of IFCO by COINTELPRO. A prolonged, resource-draining IRS audit was used to attempt to break IFCO's back. IFCO not only survived COINTELPRO's effort to destroy it , but emerged from the fray with the most favorable status possible under the 1969 Tax Act.
1970: IFCO grew from nine to 27 member organizations, and stayed healthy through the storm of controversy around the issue of reparations.
IFCO announced the formation of IFCO/ACTION, a 501(c)(4) entity for lobbying and direct action against US corporate and government policies in southern Africa and Zimbabwe. The work of IFCO/ACTION stressed the interrelationship between the domestic and international oppression of blacks, and the unity in common struggle of Black Americans and the people of Africa.
1971: IFCO played a major role in supporting the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and disbursed nearly a half million dollars in major grants. The project known as MASS, the Material Assistance Support System, was organized to provide material support for the southern African nations then subjected to Portuguese colonialism.
1972: Reports in the national press called IFCO "the nation's major black foundation," "the largest minority-controlled foundation in the country, and, in terms of total grants, one of the top 200 foundations in the US."
IFCO's International Task Force continued to encourage church agencies to direct aid to Africa and Latin America. Grants were made to support the African liberation movements FRELIMO in Mozambique and ZANU/ZAPU in Zimbabwe. Action/education projects were launched at home to direct the attention of the US minority community to African and Latin American concerns. African Liberation Day celebrations drew more than 100,000 participants.
The IFCO-sponsored Amilcar Cabral Training Institute opened its doors, and was hailed as "the beginning of a new college for the study of the `liberation arts,' which will train a new network of liberation technicians." Its unique curriculum trained minority organizers and clergy, Ph.D candidates and high school dropouts alike, in classrooms and field placements.
1973: IFCO incorporated RAINS: Relief for Africans in Need in the Sahel. In response to the West African drought crisis, RAINS focused on fundraising, letter writing, lobbying, and education - with an emphasis on Afro-Americans educating Americans on African issues. RAINS was the only US organization committed to working exclusively to support the efforts of the African people themselves.
1974: IFCO declared its support for strategies to assist Haitian refugees fleeing the brutal Duvalier regime, and pushed the National Council of Churches to fund refugee support projects and to advocate for the refugees.
1975: IFCO organized the Native American Consultation with the Churches, possibly the first organized gathering of Native American activists and spiritual leaders with theologians and administrators from the mainline Christian churches.
1976: Harassment of Native Americans by the government and industrial power sectors of the US was particularly intense at this time. The Ecumenical Minority Bail Bond Fund called for in the 1975 consultation was established to assist people of color who were subjected to political harassment.
IFCO instituted a lawsuit intended to block US aid to white Rhodesians and US government participation in the bail-out provision of the Kissinger plan for Rhodesia.
1977: IFCO organized a sterilization abuse project, a national effort to highlight the despicable incidence of involuntary sterilization among black and Latina women in the mainland US and in Puerto Rico. At that time, fully one-third of all women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico had been involuntarily sterilized by the US Health Service.
Projects focusing on affirmative action and grand jury abuse were also developed by IFCO staff.
1978: IFCO moved out of the "God Box" as the Interchurch Center was known, and into the community. With the support of Convent Avenue Baptist Church, IFCO set up its new home in Harlem.
1979: As local organizing continued through four regional offices, IFCO's role diversified. The major denominational organizations continued to proliferate and improve their own grantmaking mechanisms. As a result, IFCO's original role as a link between the churches and community projects began to change, and IFCO's sphere of involvement moved dramatically beyond the church world.
Plans were set in motion for a major symposium on "Puerto Rican Self-Determination: A Challenge to the Churches."
The IFCO Board authorized staff to plan a conference on strategies to counteract the Klan. A series of anti-Klan conferences served as the launching pad and booster rocket for the founding of the National Anti-Klan Network, today known as the Center for Democratic Renewal.
Research and experience indicated that desegregation did not improve the quality of education for children of color, but too often was used as a pretext for withholding the best educational resources from those children. To combat these inequities, IFCO pioneered the Effective Education Project. IFCO's involvement began with support for The Coalition to Save North Division High School, a brand-new $20 million educational facility in Milwaukee's black neighborhood. The Coalition won the struggle to keep North Division as a neighborhood school instead of turning it into a citywide technical school for middle class students.
1980: An 11-person staff organized the Anti-Klan mobilization in Greensboro, NC, to protest the killing of five anti-Klan demonstrators there in 1979.
Continuing the Effective Education Project, IFCO sponsored a conference in Milwaukee on the effects of desegregation on poor and Third World urban communities.
Work related to Puerto Rican self-determination continued, while IFCO continued its major emphasis on funding of domestic organizing projects. The IFCO staff began to offer an increased number of basic skills training programs on proposal writing and fundraising for its constituents.
1981: IFCO convened another conference on new strategies to counter the KKK, with the National Anti-Klan Network as co-sponsor.
IFCO produced and published the first Grantseekers' Guide, in cooperation with the National Network of Grantmakers.
As part of its continuing mission to provide training and technical assistance to community organizations, IFCO developed and began to offer an innovative training package of fundraising workshops for grassroots empowerment organizations.
1982: It was decided that the National Anti-Klan Network could more effectively confront the Klan from a Southern base. IFCO's supportive relationship continued even after NAKN established new headquarters in Atlanta.
The growing problem of drugs was addressed by the National Black Alcoholism Conference, which IFCO co-sponsored, and which provided local organizers with resources for anti-drug activity.
An Effective Education conference was held in Newark, and a high level of grant activity for domestic projects continued. While Dr. Howard Stanback served as interim director of IFCO, Lucius Walker used part of his spring sabbatical to participate in a fact-finding trip to Central America, which served as a foundation for the Central America organizing work which was to follow.
1983: As the Reagan Administration's policies in Central America produced ever more tragic results, the struggle for self-determination in Central America became a major focus of IFCO's activity. IFCO viewed the Sandinista revolution and the insurrection in El Salvador as powerful models for the struggle within the US against US militarism, racism, and economic exploitation, and saw the importance of drawing parallels and linkages between the Nicaraguan struggle and the struggle of black and Latino communities for social justice in the US.
IFCO began conducting intensive action/education campaigns on Central America issues in selected states and Congressional districts -- the project was known as the Central America Information Week. The first statewide Central America Information Week campaign was launched in Kansas in September 1983.
IFCO also began to offer Nicaragua study tours to groups of US citizens.
1984: The alarming US invasion of Grenada signalled a new aggresive phase in the Reagan administration's relations with the Third World and particularly Central America and the Caribbean. In response to the imperialistic arrogance of the US and the resultant suffering of the Grenadian people, IFCO became involved in the formation of The Grenada Foundation, which works to help repair the damages caused by the invasion and to aid in the efforts of the Grenadian people to regain their sovereignty.
The 400 Cree members of the Lubicon Lake Indian Band have lived traditionally and self-sufficiently as hunters and trappers near Little Buffalo Lake in Alberta, Canada, existing in harmony with nature and accepting no state welfare. In the late 1970s their land was literally invaded by 76 multinational oil companies. Repeated political and legal battles had been of no avail. IFCO facilitated media coverage and contacts with international organizations such as the World Council of Churches, so that the Lubicon Band's story could be brought to the world's attention.
Central America Information Week campaigns were launched in Washington, Oregon, and Ohio.
1985: IFCO conceptualized the Black Belt Empowerment Project, to support a defense fund for the civil rights workers who were indicted for registering blacks to vote, and to enhance fundraising opportunities for West Alabama Community College and the Coalition for a New South.
A large scale food drive -- IFCO's first caravan -- was organized in support of the Lubicon Lake Band, to avert the immediate disaster of starvation and malnutrition, and as an organizing tactic to generate pressure on the Canadian national and provincial governments.
Central America Information Week campaigns were launched in Wisconsin and Arizona.
1986: A Central America Information Week campaign was held in Florida. By now, many lasting results of this campaign were evident: Local organizations around the country had expanded their membership; interest in Sanctuary activity had increased; communities and congregations were forming delegations to visit Central America or help with development projects; schools and colleges were developing curricula, aid projects, and other events; hundreds of thousands of people had been exposed to the case against US intervention in Central America; and the fostering of statewide and nationwide networking among local, state, regional, and national groups was strengthening the Central America solidarity movement in the targeted states.
IFCO conducted a four-week intensive training program in Senegal, West Africa for grassroots community organizers from nine African nations.
1987: Another successful Central America Information Week campaign was carried out in South Carolina. IFCO's Nicaragua study tours continued, and study tours were also taken to Guatemala and Honduras. Many US citizens are unaware that the US government will sometimes revoke individuals' right to travel because of their progressive political actions. IFCO initiated the Freedom to Travel Project, which mobilized support for legal strategies to restore the travel rights of progressive citizens such as Margaret Randall and Phillip Agee.
With a conference entitled "Reclaiming Lost Ground: Analyzing 20 Years of Struggle and Planning Strategies for the Next 20 Years," IFCO celebrated its 20th anniversary by renewing and affirming its unique commitment to the support of domestic and international organizing.
1988: Kentucky was the site of IFCO's most successful Central America Information Week campaign to date.
Five Nicaragua study tours were organized, including a four-week January-term trip for college students, which combined study and work experience.
IFCO's project Pastors for Peace was founded in 1988, one day after IFCO's executive director survived a first-hand experience of contra terrorism. On August 2, contra forces mounted a terrorist attack on the civilian passenger ferry Mission of Peace," which was carrying 200 passengers, including an IFCO delegation. Two people were killed in that attack and 29 were wounded; one of the wounded was IFCO's director Lucius Walker, Jr. Pastors for Peace was the new action/education project designed to respond to the brutality of the so-called "low intensity war" in Central America with actions based in nonviolent resistance.
The objective of the first Pastors for Peace caravan was to galvanize direct hands-on solidarity with the victims of US foreign policy in Nicaragua -- to educate US citizens at the grassroots about the brutality of US policy, and to engage them in actively resisting that policy by sending aid to the Nicaraguan people. The statewide networks which had grown during the Central America Information Week campaigns were mobilized, and the first Pastors for Peace Caravan to Nicaragua arrived in Managua on Christmas Eve of 1988. That first caravan delivered 18 vehicles and 70 tons of humanitarian aid to the people of war-torn Nicaragua.
While that first caravan was being organized, Hurricane Joan hit the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and destroyed 90% of the housing in Bluefields. IFCO immediately organized a mini-caravan of emergency aid, and committed to organize an even bigger Pastors for Peace caravan in 1989.
1989: IFCO joined with four other national organizations to coordinate a national campaign for Nicaragua hurricane relief known as After the Storm. A benefit concert, featuring Herbie Hancock, Ruben Blades, Regina Belle, Kris Kristofferson and Richie Havens, raised $20,000 for victims of Hurricane Joan.
In August, the second Pastors for Peace Caravan delivered 25 trucks and 200 tons of aid to Nicaragua. IFCO/Pastors for Peace, in coordination with several organizations and individuals, delivered two box trucks loaded with 10 tons of emergency food and medical supplies to the Archdiocese of San Salvador. This "mini-caravan" was the first successful delivery of material aid to war-ravaged El Salvador since the start of the FMLN's offensive in November 1989.
1990: IFCO organized Nicaragua Election Watch, a delegation of 52 US church leaders and laypeople who traveled in teams to remote areas of Nicaragua to monitor the February elections. When the Sandinistas lost the election, IFCO/Pastors for Peace pledged not to be "fair-weather friends," but rather to continue its solidarity even though the political situation in Nicaragua had grown more complex.
A 50-person Transition Watch Delegation visited Nicaragua to observe the inauguration of President Chamorro and to investigate the implications of the election for IFCO's work with the people of Nicaragua.
The success of the Salvadorean "mini-caravan" led to a larger caravan to El Salvador. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, on March 22, two days before the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, IFCO's first full Pastors for Peace Caravan to El Salvador arrived in San Salvador with 12 trucks carrying 50 tons of aid valued at over $500,000. Through its ground-breaking work with church and other non-governmental groups in El Salvador, IFCO/Pastors for Peace helped set an important precedent for all future material aid shipments to Salvadorean NGOs, and challenged the limits that the Salvadorean government had placed on humanitarian church work.
Another Pastors for Peace caravan delivered 13 trucks and a half million dollars worth of aid to El Salvador in November.
IFCO hosted the August visit to New York of former Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and Fr. Miguel D'Escoto, the former foreign minister. They spoke at an emotionally charged public rally at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan.
IFCO organized a three-week US tour by Ray Hooker, a Black statesman who represents Bluefields and the southern Atlantic Coast region in Nicaragua's National Assembly, and who has since become governor of that region. Hooker also conceptualized URACCAN, the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which was to provide the black and indigenous residents of the coast with their first-ever opportunity to gain the higher education needed to develop and manage the rich natural resources of their region. In a dozen US cities, Hooker spoke of plans for URACCAN, of life in Nicaragua after the elections, and of the Atlantic Coast's unique "autonomy" process to promote multi-cultural education and self-determination.
1991: IFCO/Pastors for Peace took to the streets in protest against the war in Iraq. In Minneapolis, Pastors for Peace started a "Peace in the Persian Gulf" billboard campaign to promote an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful settlement. In New York, church and lay people organized weekly civil disobedience actions in front of the Federal Building, calling public attention to George Bush's hypocrisy in fighting a war "against aggression in Kuwait" while waging a war of aggression against the children, the aged, the poor, the African-American and the Latino-American people of the US.
IFCO hosted a reception for the Movimiento Comunal Nicaraguense, a grassroots organization founded by Fr. Miguel D'Escoto, which educates hundreds of thousands of poor Nicaraguans about their housing rights.
The seventh Pastors for Peace caravan to Central America arrived in Managua in August. IFCO organized a delegation to visit the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and participate in the Second International Symposium on Autonomy.
IFCO's first fact-finding delegation to Cuba traveled in 1991. The group investigated the effects of the US economic blockade after the fall of the Soviet bloc, with a special emphasis on the role of the church. Dialogue with Cuban religious leaders, including liberation theologian Rev. Sergio Arce and Rev. Raúl Suárez, director of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, led to the development of a historic campaign of solidarity with Cuba.
1992: IFCO's board of directors affirmed the initiation of the historic US/Cuba Friendshipment campaign, a creative program of action/education to directly challenge the US economic blockade of Cuba.
The first US/Cuba Friendshipment caravan traveled in November 1992. 100 volunteer caravanistas carried 15 tons of simple humanitarian aid -- powdered milk, medicines, Bibles, bicycles, and school supplies. The US government had never before seen a direct grassroots challenge to the blockade, and they responded with force. CNN cameras filmed US Treasury officers assaulting a Catholic priest who was carrying Bibles to take to Cuba. Our emergency response network, and the CNN coverage, prompted thousands of calls to Washington from around the US; the caravan was allowed to cross. The Treasury Department wrote to us later to say that really it was OK to take milk and books to Cuba -- but not medicines, not vehicles, nothing electrical.
Until this first Friendshipment, no US organization had ever mounted a serious direct challenge to the US blockade of Cuba. No one had tried to openly and publicly take aid to Cuba without the US government's permission. Limited quantities of aid were being sent by some nongovernmental organizations, under US government license. This licensing process gives the US government control over the donor, the recipients, the types and the end uses of the aid; and it provides legitimizing exceptions which, from a public relations standpoint, minimize the blockade's brutal effects. IFCO has taken the position that to participate in the US government licensing process is to be complicit with the blockade, which is immoral. We choose instead to respond to a higher authority: what the US government calls "trading with the enemy," we regard as taking a cup of cold water to a neighbor in need (Matthew 25:35).
IFCO/Pastors for Peace continued organizing caravans to Central America -- one each to El Salvador and Nicaragua. The new conservative government of Nicaragua was doing everything possible to undermine the autonomy process for self determination in the Atlantic Coast region. Plans for URACCAN, the region's first university, were set back when the new Managua government reclaimed the buildings which had been promised to URACCAN and turned them into military barracks. IFCO/Pastors for Peace responded by organizing the first in a long series of Nicaragua construction brigades, through which US citizens helped to start building URACCAN, one classroom at a time.
1993: IFCO/Pastors for Peace worked in cooperation with several other Salvadorean solidarity organizations, to organize the Building the New El Salvador caravan.
At the US/Mexico border, on the eve of the second Friendshipment caravan, a Leadership Summit on Cuba was convened. Bishops and clergy, labor organizers, Cuban-Americans, educators and health-care professionals joined with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to write a letter to President Clinton asking for a more humane US policy toward Cuba.
The second US/Cuba Friendshipment caravan (summer 1993) had 300 participants -- 65 of them Cuban Americans -- and 100 tons of aid - including medicines, schoolbuses, computers, medical equipment, and other items deliberately chosen to challenge the blockade. US Treasury officials seized a little yellow schoolbus at the Laredo border, saying that "Fidel Castro might take a liking to it and use it as a military vehicle." The 13 caravanistas who were on board the bus when it was seized decided to stay on the bus and to fast until it was released. Their hunger strike lasted 23 days, during which time an international campaign of pressure on Washington was mounted by our emergency response network. Demonstrations were held in 20 cities, thousands of calls and faxes went to Washington, and a solidarity fast was held in front of the US Interests Section in Havana. Active nonviolence and IFCO's extraordinary network of supporters won the day; the intense pressure mounted by our network eventually caused the US government to relent. The Little Yellow Schoolbus has been serving the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King Center in Havana since 1993.
Seven religious leaders from Cuba were invited to the US for a tour which included preaching and speaking engagements in 15 US cities, meetings with US religious leaders, and face-to-face meetings with a number of members of Congress and their aides.
1994: The project Time to Heal asked US citizens to send small gifts of vitamins and school supplies to President and Mrs. Clinton, along with letters explaining that the gifts were for the children of Cuba, who were deprived of such basic items by the US blockade. The campaign was designed to tell the Clintons that it's time for them to take leadership in healing relations between Cuba and US.
Friendshipment III once again broke the US government's blockade of Cuba. More than 250 volunteers from 19 different countries travelled through 140 cities in the US, Canada, and Mexico and collected more than 150 tons of humanitarian aid for the Cuban people. Donations included seven busses -- one of them wheelchair accessible, $1 million in prescription medicines, an ambulance, some much-needed hard currency, and a ten-foot satellite dish -- a "people's alternative to TV Martí."
A second Leadership Summit on Cuba was convened in Washington, DC. Clergy from 10 different religious denominations participated; they visited members of Congress, and affirmed the responsibility of the churches to take a more prophetic position against the blockade.
IFCO worked with a broad range of anti-embargo groups to organize a National Public Education Day on Cuba on June 9. Participants visited key Congressional representatives and urged them to end the blockade and normalize relations with Cuba.
During the summer of 1994, international attention was focused on Cuba, as the dire economic situation on the island -- due primarily to the brutal effects of the US blockade -- led to a mass emigration of Cubans on rafts. News reports nearly always distorted the real causes of the crisis. IFCO/Pastors for Peace responded by organizing more than a dozen Regional Conferences on Cuba, educational conferences which included organizing workshops and talks by knowledgeable resource people. The conferences helped participants to decipher the truth about Cuba, stimulated Friendshipment participation, and provided new avenues for Cuba solidarity.
In November, the blockade was broken again with Friendshipment IV, which delivered 260 tons of aid to the people of Cuba. Two hundred and fifty caravanistas travelled west to east, converging on the nation's capital, where they participated in the first large-scale national demonstration against the blockade of Cuba. Caravanistas visited 100 Congressional offices to voice their opposition to US/Cuba policy. They also visited local churches to stimulate support for reconciliation with Cuba.
In Cuba, the caravanistas were part of a large US delegation to Cuba's first international solidarity conference. In what was an awesome expression of world-wide solidarity, 3,000 participants from 109 countries took part in the week-long conference held in Havana.
1995: Friendshipment V, like Friendshipment III, was intended to intensify the challenge in a new way, by bringing a new item of technology -- this time, solar panels, which are now being used in a rural health education program in Cuba. When the caravan arrived at the International Peace Bridge in Buffalo, with the solar panels displayed resplendently in the lead, US Customs officials were nowhere to be seen -- and local police waved the caravan across the bridge into Canada.
In October 1995, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, IFCO participated in a coalitional effort to bring Cuban President Fidel Castro to Harlem - marking the 35th anniversary of the leader's first visit to Harlem. The Africans in the Americas Committee to Welcome Fidel Castro organized an historic event held at Abyssinian Baptist Church. More than 3,000 people from across the country attended this inspiring event - illustrating to the world that Fidel Castro is loved and revered in Harlem.
IFCO/Pastors for Peace began its program of solidarity with Chiapas, Mexico in response to the urgent call for international presence and support after the Mexican Army's offensive against rural indigenous communities. The offensive caused 20,000 indigenous people to flee their homes and hide in the mountains of the Lacondón jungle. Months later, the refugees came home to find that the army had established camps outside their communities. This protracted military presence has caused an alarming increase in human rights abuses and has exacerbated the severe shortages of food and potable water.
In February, IFCO/Pastors for Peace sent a delegation of emergency human rights observers to Chiapas - the first international observers to enter the zone of conflict after the offensive. A second observer delegation, and a small humanitarian aid caravan travelled to Chiapas with the Todos Para Todos Mexican solidarity caravan, which was attacked by masked gunmen. The delegation observed a round of peace talks between the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the Mexican government.
Human rights observer delegations to Chiapas travelled again in May, June, July and September to monitor the miliary presence and observe peace talks. Nationwide US solidarity was manifested through two humanitarian aid caravans which IFCO/Pastors for Peace organized in August and November.
Solidarity continued with URACCAN. URACCAN support committees were formed around the US; they raised funds to build classroom pavilions for the new university. Construction brigades travelled to Bluefields to help build classrooms. IFCO organized US speaking tours for URACCAN founders and organizers, including Francisco Campbell and Daisy George, to establish new sources of support.
1996: The Sixth Friendshipment caravan to Cuba was supposed to be a simple "mini-caravan" to deliver 400 donated medical computers -- 286s and XTs, nearly obsolete by US standards. These computers were to serve as communications terminals for an island-wide medical information network, which would make it possible for Cuban doctors to locate scarce medicines and have access to consultation and treatment data. The US government, in its most brutal confrontation to date, attacked the caravan and seized all the computers. In response, and in the name of reconciliation and peace, five caravan participants consecrated a "Fast for Life" on February 21, 1996. They fasted for 32 days in a tent on the San Diego border where the computers had been seized. Then they moved their fast to Washington, DC and pitched their tent across the street from the US Capitol. As the Fast continued, the campaign for the release of the computers reached unprecedented levels. Nine national religious agencies joined the challenge, each agreeing that they would take possession of the computers and send them to Cuba -- but without requesting a license. International organizations from Europe, Africa, and Latin America pledged that they would send a total of 1400 computers, in solidarity with Cuba and with the Fast for Life. As pressure from our national network mounted, 70 members of Congress joined the effort and actively advocated for the release of the computers. The Treasury Secretary and the National Security Adviser received so many phone calls from our supporters that they had to change their phone numbers. White House staffers indicated that, at the height of the campaign, the White House was receiving a phone call every four minutes demanding that the computers be released and sent to Cuba. On Day 94 of the Fast, the US Treasury Department released the computers to the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. They were delivered to Cuba in September 1996, and now make up 40% of the INFOMED network, where they provide life-giving medical information for Cuban doctors.
Our program of nonviolent direct action to end the US blockade of Cuba has clearly had a significant impact on the US government. Our broadbased people's campaign to take aid to Cuba in defiance of the blockade has made visible the meanspirited nature of US/Cuba policy. And each time we have challenged the blockade, Washington has been forced to back down, to broaden its definition of acceptable humanitarian aid, to liberalize its enforcement of the blockade. The Fast for Life campaign helped inspire the formation of a Congressional working group which introduced a bill in 1997 to ease the blockade on food and medicine (HR1951).
IFCO/Pastors for Peace humanitarian aid caravans to Chiapas traveled in May and November. In November, the caravan was violently attacked by members of a paramilitary group named Desarrollo, Paz y Justicia, Development, Peace and Justice. Members of this state-funded paramilitary organization, surrounded, threatened and shot at the caravan, attempting to stop the caravan from delivering aid to indigenous refugees in the northern zone of Chiapas.
A creative series of observer delegations travelled to Chiapas in 1996. An IFCO-sponsored women's delegation investigated human rights abuses committed against indigenous women by the Mexican army and paramilitary groups. The Minnesota/Chiapas Health Care Exchange was comprised of US health care professionals who gave volunteer service at clinics in indigenous communities, and who donated several tons of urgently needed medical supplies. A Youth Delegation attended the celebration of the second anniversary of the Zapatista uprising and the inauguration of four Centers of Resistance.
1997: IFCO organized its first fact-finding delegation to Haiti. The delegation traveled extensively through the struggling nation and dialogued with public officials, church leaders, peasant organizations, students, farmers and people in the streets. The delegation observed the increasing impoverishment of the Haitian people which has resulted from corporate greed and US support for the criminal ruling class; and they heard from Haiti's common people that the impending policies of privatization and structural adjustment" were sure to increase their suffering. The delegation protested the US government's obstruction of justice in Haiti-the withholding and censoring of documents needed to bring war criminals to justice-by holding a day-long vigil in front of the US embassy in Port- au-Prince. IFCO made a commitment to organize more delegations and to develop new avenues for effective solidarity with Haiti.
Three more delegations traveled to Chiapas: A Faith and Reconciliation Delegation which investigated the role of religious issues in the Chiapas conflict; another Women's delegation; and a return trip of the Chiapas/Minnesota Health Care Exchange.
Friendshipment VII was dedicated to the children of Cuba, and delivered 500 tons of aid -- including a mobile library equipped with a Pentium computer, a pediatric ambulance, four schoolbuses, and other sophisticated medical and educational aid. For the first time, the IFCO/Pastors launched a caravan along two fronts: the east and west coasts. In San Diego, the caravan's western contingent was ambushed and attacked by a band of right-wing Cuban American terrorists; but the Treasury Department allowed the whole shipment to cross without a license in Buffalo, New York as well as San Diego, California.
A third IFCO sponsored delegation of five Cuban religious leaders visited the US. They spoke and preached in 23 cities and spent several days in Washington meeting with members of Congress.
In November of 1997, 35 volunteers traveling in eight vehicles delivered more than 15 tons of humanitarian aid on the IFCO/Pastors for Peace Caravan to Chiapas and Nicaragua. The caravan had two major points of focus - providing a continued international presence in Chiapas, and delivering educational supplies and providing support to the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (URACCAN.) In 1997, IFCO was proud to celebrate with URACCAN its very first graduating class.
1998: IFCO organized one of the first bipartisan delegations of key Congressional staff to visit Cuba. They engaged in active dialogue about democracy and human rights with Cubans in the government, in the churches, and at the grassroots, and got to see Cuba with their own eyes.
Friendshipment VIII was dedicated to the children and elders of Cuba. One hundred and sixty-five volunteers from across the US, Canada, Mexico and six European countries participated in this caravan. The aid delivered included three bookmobiles, two ambulances, five school busses, Pentium computers, pediatric and geriatric medicines, and raw materials that enabled Cuba to manufacture nearly half a million dollars worth of life-saving antibiotics.
In April of 1998, IFCO/ Pastors for Peace organized an Emergency Caravan for Peace to Chiapas, Mexico in response to the massacre of 45 indigenous people in Acteal and the assassination attempts on Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Bishop Raul Vera. 25 volunteers in 7 vehicles, delivered more than 25,000 pounds of urgently needed medicines, medical supplies, blankets and foodstuffs to internally displaced indigenous communities.
In November, Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, killing thousands and displacing tens of thousands. IFCO/Pastors for Peace responded immediately with a national material aid Caravan to Chiapas and Nicaragua. Ten years prior, IFCO's very first Pastors for Peace caravan arrived in Nicaragua in the wake of Hurricane Joan. Ten years later, IFCO again partook in an emergency relief effort; but this time under President Alemán's threats of seizing the life-saving aid rather than allowing its distribution to starving families in disease-ridden zones in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.
1999: In February, IFCO organized the first official delegation of the Congressional Black Caucus to visit Cuba. Under the leadership of former CBC chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D- CA), this was the largest-ever delegation of US elected officials to visit Cuba.
IFCO organized several other Congressional delegations to Cuba in 1999, which included two more members of the Congressional Black Caucus and a number of key Congressional staff.
In July, Friendshipment IX honored Cuba's unrelenting commitment to provide free health care services for the poorest people of the world and was dedicated to the nurses and doctors of Cuba. The friendshipment caravan delivered millions of dollars worth of sophisticated medical aid and equipment and visited the brand new Latin American Medical School, where Cuba was just beginning to train young doctors for the nations devastated by Hurricanes Mitch and George.
In November, the IFCO/Pastors for Peace Caravan to Central America began its journey in Ft. Benning, Georgia to participate in a nationally coordinated demonstration against the US Army School of the Americas. This caravan included for the first time in IFCO's history a solidarity program with Honduras. The caravan arrived in Honduras at the moment an investigation had begun of US-backed torture chambers and clandestine graves in El Aguacate, Honduras.
2000: Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) traveled to Cuba in a February delegation organized by IFCO. They cut the ribbon at the opening of the first-ever US-Cuba Medical Trade Fair. They dedicated the trade fair to Elián González and all the Cuban children who were deprived of medicines because of the US economic blockade.
In March, an IFCO/Pastors for Peace Caravan to Chiapas delivered more than 30,000 pounds of humanitarian aid to thousands of internally displaced indigenous people in Chiapas, Mexico, just months before the monumental presidential election in Mexico which ended the 72 year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
IFCO took leadership in the successful national campaign to send Elián González home to his father in Cuba -- a campaign which included demonstrations in Miami, Washington, and cities around the US; visits to the Justice and State Departments; numerous TV and radio appearances; and extensive grassroots advocacy.
The second official delegation of the Congressional Black Caucus, organized by IFCO, visited Cuba in May-June 2000. During this visit, President Castro first made the offer of full scholarships for US students from the Mississippi Delta to study medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana.
Also in May, IFCO led a delegation of clergy members and lay people to Chiapas to witness the installation of the new Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Monsignor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel.
When Cuban President Fidel Castro visited New York for the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, IFCO took leadership in the coalition which organized a welcoming event for him at the Riverside Church. In his speech, President Castro extended his previous offer of medical school scholarships to students of color and students from underserved communities in all parts of the US.
IFCO organized two US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravans in 2000. Friendshipment X was dedicated to Cuba's students and athletes; this caravan delivered educational aid and sports equipment in addition to valuable hospital equipment, an ambulance, and several school busses. Participants included the Lost Coast Pirates, a California baseball team of 10 to 12-year old boys who played a three-game series with kids in Cuba.
Friendshipment XI honored Cuba's innovations in alternative energy by delivering solar panels and equipment to provide electricity for rural schools and health clinics in the rural mountainous zones of Cuba. Members of the 11th US/Cuba Friendshipment participated in Cuba's Second World Solidarity Conference.
2001: IFCO became the national center for administering the program of scholarships for US students to study medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba. Eight US students entered the program in April, three more in July, and 28 in August.
In March, a delegation from IFCO traveled to Mexico to accompany indigenous leaders from Chiapas to Mexico City during the historic March for the Dignity of Indigenous People. As the Zapatistas and thousands of international observers descended on Mexico City to advocate for an indigenous rights bill, an IFCO/Pastors for Peace Caravan began traveling throughout the US en route to Chiapas, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and another group of key Congressional staff, visited Cuba in IFCO-organized delegations throughout 2001. (The generous support of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation continues to make these delegations possible.)
Friendshipment XII included the very first Reverse Challenge, where for the first time ever, the caravan brought back Cuban manufactured products to the US, including BioRat, an environmentally friendly, human safe rodenticide, and solar panels, which were donated to a Native American community in Northern California.
In December, IFCO's Caravan to Chiapas included a project to help reconstruct the community of Guadalupe Tepeyac, a recently returned indigenous community whose members had been internally displaced for more than six years due to a military base which had been built in the center of their community on top of the community's Auguascalientes, or community organizing center.
Throughout the year, IFCO also organized the placement of two volunteers in Chiapas Civilian Encampments. These international human rights observation camps decrease human rights abuses in indigenous communities under threat of military and paramilitary attack.
2002: Nearly 60 students from all regions of the US are now enrolled in the Latin American School of Medicine. With help from its Medical School Advisory Committee, IFCO continues to administer this historic program -- which involves promotion, recruitment, selection, orientation, and follow-up support for these hard-working, ground-breaking students.
IFCO also has been organizing delegations twice a year so that prospective students, families of current students, and other friends interested in promoting the historic scholarship program at the Latin American Medical School can visit Cuba and see the school for themselves. One of these IFCO delegations will share Thanksgiving dinner with the US medical students at the William Carey Baptist Church in Havana in November.
In February, IFCO itinerated speaking engagements in New York for a campesino leader from Honduras. Rosalio Murcia Murcia, of the National Center for Agricultural Workers in Honduras, met with nearly a dozen faith-based, labor, and community organizations to discuss the urgency of landless campesinos being violently displaced throughout Honduras. And in July, a two-year long internship with IFCO ended for Ana Miranda, a Garifuna organizer from Honduras who increased awareness among people in the US about the struggle of African-descended people in the Central America.
In April, IFCO's Caravan to Chiapas, Honduras and Nicaragua delivered more than 15 tons of material aid to indigenous, campesino and African-descended communities throughout the region. While in Nicaragua, the caravan met with Dr. Maria Luisa Acosta, internationally renown indigenous rights lawyer. During the meeting, Dr. Acosta's husband was assassinated in his own home in Bluefields, Nicaragua. IFCO emphatically condemned the assassination and immediately organized an emergency co-sponsored delegation, which returned to Nicaragua in August of the same year.
Friendshipment XIII marked the ten year anniversary of the Cuba caravans and again honored the health achievements of Cuba. The caravan also continued the tradition of the Reverse Challenge, by bringing back coffee, honey, and bee pollen, to be used in educational events in communities across the US to raise public awareness about the benefits of trading with Cuba. A Cuba-manufactured solar panel brought back by the caravan was detained by US Customs. IFCO is currently waging a campaign to release the panel for donation to a rural Native American community in need of electrification.
IFCO maintains its commitment to support self-determination in Mexico and Central America. In December 2002, IFCO will organize a Caravan to Chiapas to support the indigenous struggle for peace and dignity. Mexican President Vicente Fox has undermined each of the three good faith signs which indigenous leaders asked him to demonstrate in order to return to the peace negotiations. And in April of 2003, IFCO will organize another Caravan to Honduras and Nicaragua in support of the millions of landless indigenous, campesino and African-descended families who continue their struggle for peace with justice.
IFCO's 14th US/Cuba Friendshipment in Summer 2003 focused on the needs of Cuba's elderly and celebrated a bold travel challenge in conjunction with the Venceremos Brigade in the face of an intensified attack on our constitutional right to travel to Cuba by the Bush administration in face of majority US public and Congressional support for normalizing relations with Cuba. 110 caravanistas traveled to Cuba without a license and visited schools, hospitals, elder care centers, the Latin American School of Medicine, and best of all celebrated the 50 year anniversary of Moncada, along with block parties of Cubans all over the island!
IFCO also continues to play key roles in the national committee to free the five Cuban political prisoners being unjustly imprisoned in the US for infiltrating anti-Cuba terrorist groups in Miami.
By now, local caravan organizing committees have formed in more than 150 US cities, and the US-Cuba Friendshipments have inspired the involvement of many diverse new sectors in active solidarity with Cuba. African- American churches; Cuban-American moderates; religious communities such as the Bruderhof and the Sisters of St. Francis; Rotary Clubs and local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters have all been actively involved in the Friendshipment caravans. The US/Cuba Friendshipments have also had strong participation and active support from solidarity and religious organizations in Canada, Mexico, and a number of South American, European and African countries.
For more than four decades, IFCO's work has been distinguished by our unique positioning, which allows us to do extensive outreach and networking in ecumenical and progressive communities and in communities of color; our strong emphasis on grassroots organizing and action/education; our growing capacity to mobilize broad action; and our consistent insistence on challenging the powers through creative nonviolent strategies.
As we look toward future, we see many familiar political themes on our horizon: the wholesale undermining of human and civil rights; government contempt for the poor; dismantling of hard-won gains and freedoms; oppressive foreign and domestic policies. Now more than ever, IFCO rededicates itself to fund, nurture and support the organizations that it helped to get started -- networking them into a larger arena and watching them flourish and do wonderful, world-changing things. IFCO renews its commitment to continue to support the efforts of people who struggle for justice--"until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream". (Amos 5.24)
This is our continuing commitment to our family;
Some of whom are living, many of whom have passed away,
and most of whom are yet unborn...