About 100 representatives of Cuban solidarity organizations from western Canada and the United States converged at the Canadian-United States Peace Arch border south of Vancouver on June 18. They rallied to support the departure of the 17th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba.
Five participants from Canada are part of the caravan that brings truckloads of humanitarian aid safely across the border.
Before the crossing people met for a picnic lunch, listened to songs by the Raging Grannies and heard speeches from representatives of groups from several communities on both sides of the boarder.
Powell River was represented by Lyn Stoffels, who joined the Vancouver group for the weekend. Supporters walked beside three vehicles laden with goods, crossed the border into the United States and loaded them on the pastors for peace bus.
Pastors for Peace, also known as the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations, has worked for many years in solidarity with Cuba to break the 44-year-old blockade, explained Stoffels. “Cuba, despite its hardships, offers free education through university, a universal health care program and extensive social programs,” she said. “It has one of the best health care programs in the world, yet the embargo blocks necessary medicines and equipment.”
As the caravan proceeds across the United States, it collects more “caravanistas” and donations of medicine, medical aid, computers and school supplies. There are 13 routes with stops in 120 Canadian and American cities. Events are planned along the way to inform people on how the embargo causes shortages of food, medicine and other important supplies and uses hunger and disease as political weapons, said Stoffels. “These humanitarian aid shipments mitigate the impact of the embargo and mobilize thousands of US citizens in favour of an end to the embargo and normalization of relations between the two countries,” she said.
All routes converge in McAllen, Texas, where they cross the border into Mexico. The convoy drives to Tampico where the goods are loaded onto a ship and sent to Cuba. From there the caravanistas fly to Havana for an educational week of touring hospitals, schools, churches, organic farms, social programs and cultural events.
Interested readers can follow the progress of the caravan on the Pastors for Peace website, http://www.pastorsforpeace.org . An information session is planned in Powell River later this summer. For more information readers can call Stoffels at 604.483.7909.