What is a Caravan?
Our largest caravan – to Cuba – has 14 separate routes. Often our vehicles are brightly painted school buses, but we also donate trucks, ambulances, mobile libraries, and cars all packed with life-saving humanitarian aid donated by the people of the US, Mexico and Canada to the the people of Cuba
As we travel through the US and Canada over a 1-2 week period, we make many pre-arranged stops in cities and communitie where we participate in public events about the reality in Cuba and the purpose of our trip.
We also participate in press conferences and media interviews. We usually stay in the homes of local volunteers from organizations that arrange the public event – usually churches, solidarity committees or peace and justice centers. At many stops we pick up new caravanistas or aid that has already been collected and packed by the host organization.
The humanitarian aid we take is principally medical and educational supplies and equipment, but also computers, bicycles, tools, and sports and cultural equipment. Some of the vehicles we use to transport the aid are themselves donated. When we reach the US border we are joined by more caravanistas and we spend three days at Orientation. This is a time for packing and manifesting the aid, some preparatory learning about Cuba, and discussion about how to handle any obstacles that US or Mexican Customs may put in our way.
Once we successfully cross the border, we travel on to our destination country where we spend an intense, action-packed 8-10 days. We visit social and community projects and meet with the local people, learning about their lives, struggles and achievements, and also about the impact of US government policy on their lives. The aid we donate is received by the Cuban Ecumenical Distribution Committee, comprised of local religious and community partners in Cuba who determine where the aid will be donated.
We then return together to Texas. From there caravanistas make their way home – inspired to report back to their friends, colleagues, congregations and communities about what they have witnessed – and inspired to continue to work in solidarity with the Cuban people.
We travel to Cuba without a US government license as a conscious act of civil disobedience and as an expression of resistance to the US government’s cruel and immoral economic blockade of Cuba, which uses the denial of food and medicine as a political weapon.
There are occasions when the conscience of peopl e of faith will not rest until they say “No” to the powers. There are decisive moments when communities of faith must shoose between the path of complicity with powers and the path of resistance against evil policies of the powers. There comes a time when unjust laws must be challenged, even at the risk of confrontation by government. At these moments the integrity of people of faith and people of conscience hangs in the balance. We at IFCO/Pastors for Peace believe that the continued blockade of Cuba presents such a time for all justice loving people. And that is why since 1992 IFCO/Pastors for Peace and its vast network of supporters, have stood up and spoken out and acted out against this unjust and harmful policy that has has had a tremendously painful impact against the people of Cuba.
Why Does IFCO Challenge the Travel Ban to Cuba?
The US embargo of Cuba (referred to as a blockade because of the pressure placed on other nations to impose punishment against Cuba due to the Helms Burton Act and the Torricelli Act) causes shortages of food, medicine and other important supplies for more than eleven million people. The blockade is an immoral policy that uses hunger and disease as political weapons.
IFCO/Pastors for Peace works with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center in Havana, the Cuban Council of Churches and a distribution committee with representatives from ten different Cuban denominations to deliver US-Cuba Friendshipments. These humanitarian aid shipments mitigate the impact of the blockade and mobilize thousands of US citizens in favor of an alternative. We call for an end to the blockade of Cuba and normalization of relations between our two countries.
As a matter of principle, the Friendshipments refuse to apply for a license under the terms of the blockade, since to do so would be a de facto recognition of an immoral policy. From 1992 to 2015, IFCO/Pastors for Peace has delivered twenty six Friendshipments to Cuba; some encountered resistance from U.S. officials, but arrived safely in Cuba after countless US citizens and friends from other nations expressed support of our efforts and demanded that we be able to successfully deliver our live-saving humanitarian aid. These successes provide proof of the power that people can have when they are organized, motivated and determined. Speaking truth to power and standing firm in the face of injustice are central to the work of IFCO/ Pastors for Peace.
Why does IFCO/Pastors Refuse a License to Deliver Aid to Cuba?
With your support IFCO has brought broad-based public attention to the mean spirited blockade against Cuba. Every time the US Treasury Department allows one of our caravans to cross the border with unlicensed aid for Cuba, we know that our message is being heard at the highest levels in Washington – and that even Washington understands that its blockade of Cuba is indefensible. We believe that is why the Obama Administration is now supporting the call for an end to the blockade.
We cannot allow the government to license our conscience. Our faith and humanity demand that we provide “a cup of cold water” (Matthew 25:35) to our brothers and sisters in need. We cannot surrender to Caesar the right to decide who are our brothers and sisters. We cannot accept a law that commands us to treat them as “the enemy” when our faith commands us to love them as members of our own family.
We firmly believe that the US government uses its licensing process to create legitimizing exceptions which put a more human face on their brutal blockade. Here’s how:
- The small amount of “licensed aid” that is allowed to go to Cuba is used by the US government to enhance its public relations image. The US Treasury Department has sent out thousands of letters telling people that the US government is the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to Cuba. In other words, the US is shamelessly taking credit for the very aid it has harassed and detained members of IFCO/Pastors for Peace for delivering without a license.
We insist – as a matter of principle – that Cuba needs the US trade barrier lifted; Cuba is not asking for charity, but normal trade relations!
- The US government uses licensing to maintain control over the flow of aid – for its own political purposes. By granting some licenses and not others, the government attempts to control which US organizations can send aid to Cuba and which cannot.
- While allowing a few licenses but denying commercial trade the US prevents Cuba’s access to the volume of commodities essential to meet the needs of the nation. This is one way our government implements the Helms Burton law- by allowing small amounts of aid instead of normal trade.
The US government control of churches’ prerogative to give aid and charity violates the separation of church and state, which is guaranteed under the First Amendment. Our religious partners in this work rigorously voice their concern about this issue – just as US journalists have protested that our government has no right to license US news agencies going to Cuba.
We reject the unconstitutional and immoral efforts to require a license for acts of common humanity. Our faith and international law do not permit us to behave in such an immoral, unjust and inhumane way. The Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment of the Constitution were written by men and women who refused to submit their conscience to licensing. We must remain true to the spirit, in spite of the law. By so doing, we will challenge the unjust law and eventually change it. We hope we can count on you to join us!