Victory at US-Canada Border for Caravan to Cuba!Source: Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)
On Sunday July 3rd 2011, on the West Coast of Canada and the United States, the 22nd Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba successfully crossed its first frontier in challenging the US blockade on Cuba! Despite the attempts by US Customs to prevent a van load of humanitarian aid, including medical supplies and bicycles, to cross the US border, the aid and seven Caravanistas successfully crossed the border in to Washington State!
The day began with a picnic and rally at the Peace Arch International Park at the White Rock/Blaine border crossing, organized by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the newly formed BC Aid Network for Cuba (BCANC). Over 70 peace-loving people and solidarity activists from both Washington State in the US and British Columbia in Canada came together to send off the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba, as well as heard from the route speaker, Alicia Jrapko, coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, who came to BC from San Francisco. Traveling from Canada were the seven Caravanistas, of which five were from Canada, one from the US and one from Germany along with a van full of humanitarian aid to be transferred to a school bus in Blaine, Washington. From there, they were to begin their trek across the United States to raise awareness about the inhuman and immoral US blockade of Cuba and openly challenge US policy against the Cuban people.
As the van filled with aid and also carrying the caravan speaker approached the US border station, it was flanked by the international supporters, waving Cuban flags and holding banners demanding an end to the US blockade of Cuba and for the release of the Cuban 5 Heroes in US Jails. The crowd chanted ‘Lift the blockade of Cuba now!’ to the traffic line-up clogging the border. The six other caravanistas then began their walk across the border to join their new school bus on the other side. At this point, US Customs waved both the van and the foot passengers in to US Immigration for questioning, and the van was searched. While six caravanistas were eventually allowed entrance in to the US, the driver and Jrapko with the van were told that they would not be permitted to transport any goods across the Peace Arch border crossing and that they would have to attempt to cross the border at the commercial Pacific Truck Border Crossing four kilometers away. Over the years, the caravan has always used the Peace Arch crossing to transport buses, aid and Caravanistas across and this was a clear attempt by US Customs to separate the aid from caravan supporters and move the van to a less public area.
The second attempt to get the humanitarian aid through took place at the commercial Pacific Truck Border Crossing. This time, US Customs declared that Pastors for Peace needed to purchase a bond of an undisclosed amount in order to transport the humanitarian aid through the US. This was a clear undermining of US law, which states that transporting goods for humanitarian purposes does not require a bond.
As it was clear that US Customs was not planning on allowing the aid to pass through the border, the Caravanistas and supporters stepped up the pressure on US Customs. From the Canadian side, supporters from Canada set up a protest in the border line-up to the United States, waving Cuban flags and chanting ‘The US stopped our aid to Cuba! Shame! Shame! Shame!’ This was met by another protest on the US side of the border by the Caravanistas who had already crossed in to the US. Waving placards that said ‘Let our aid to Cuba through!’ and joining in the chants from the Canadian side, it was impossible to ignore the presence of Cuba and its supporters against US Customs attempt to deny the aid to reach the Cuban people.
While the caravan supporters were making their demands heard on both sides of the border, the Pastors for Peace legal team was also at work. They explained to the border authorities that they were acting outside of US law, and referred the US Customs authorities to the US law that says transporting humanitarian aid does not require a bond.
Through the pressure of the protests and the work of the legal team, the US Customs finally backed down and allowed the van full of aid through the border! The medical aid, educational supplies, bicycles, soccer balls and other humanitarian aid were loaded in to the Caravan’s school bus and the Caravan has now begun its route through Washington state. This school bus is one of 13 vehicles traveling through Canada, the US, and Mexico to deliver humanitarian aid to Cuba and openly challenge the US blockade of Cuba and its travel ban on US citizens preventing them from visiting their neighbor.
This border crossing was a big success for the caravan on the West Coast!
This victory gives a boost of momentum to the Caravan, and everyone is encouraged to stay up to date as the route makes its way through the US. The biggest challenge for the caravan is yet to come. On July 21st we have another border to cross when we reach Texas and attempt to cross the US/Mexico border, challenging the US blockade on Cuba. The US/Canada border crossing has reaffirmed that the criminal US blockade against Cuba continues, and the work of the caravan is as important as ever. On July 21st we need the same support we had at the Canada/US border to ensure that we will break the blockade of Cuba!
Viva Cuba! Abajo el Bloqueo! Viva la solidaridad entre los pueblos!