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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Rockland New York man to defy Cuba embargo

Posted July 07, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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By LAURA INCALCATERRA | THE JOURNAL NEWS

Irving Wolfe may be 90 but as he puts it, “I’m still going, not so strong, but I’m still going.”

This month, Wolfe once again will go to Cuba in defiance of U.S. travel restrictions and a trade embargo on the communist Caribbean nation, which sits just 90 miles off Florida’s coast.

Wolfe will join Pastors for Peace, a project of the New York City-based Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. A caravan left for the Texas-Mexico border yesterday, but Wolfe won’t join them in Texas until July 16.

The group plans to cross into Mexico on July 17 and ship goods to Cuba via freighter from the town of Tampico, where, Wolfe said, Cuba will send a plane for members of the caravan.

“What we’re doing is illegal,” Wolfe said. “But we’re bringing material aid that is desperately needed — powdered milk, school supplies, medicine.”

Pastors for Peace has gone to Cuba 13 times since 1992; Wolfe has joined the caravan 12 times.

The Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of the Interreligious Foundation and a minister at Salvation Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said the trips to Cuba began after churches on the island asked for help after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The U.S. embargo began in the 1960s, in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis. Communism and communist countries were considered enemies by the United States.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1989, Cuba lost billions of dollars in subsidies, and the country’s 11 million people grappled with starvation.

Cuba used tourism to rebuild, with President Fidel Castro working with companies from Canada, Italy and Spain, among others, to build hotels and resorts.

Congress allowed the sale of medicines to Cuba in 1992 and the sale of food in 2000. But Walker said more could be done to help people if there were no embargo.

“We believe that our country’s our government’s blockade of Cuba is mean-spirited and wrong,” Walker said.

Members of the Pastors for Peace caravan are “just trying to be good neighbors,” he said.

Walker said the Interreligious Foundation also believes in fighting the embargo. The organization has reached out to Congress and led trips to Cuba.

Cuba isn’t just asking for help, Walker said. The country has items the United States could buy. On past trips, Pastors for Peace has brought some of those items back into the United States in a reverse challenge to embargo rules prohibiting goods from Cuba, including solar panels, coffee, honey and a biodegradable rat poison.

Wolfe said he first went to Cuba in time for the New Year’s Day celebration in 1961 the second anniversary of the revolution that put Castro in the president’s seat.

Wolfe said he went because there was so much conflicting information about Cuba at the time and he wanted to know the truth. He said Cuba has virtually ended illiteracy and has a health care system that serves all.

“I know most Americans think Cubans are unhappy with Cuba, and some are,” Wolfe said. “But the great majority are well-educated and reasonably happy with their country.”

Recent calls have come to end the embargo, with American businesses interested in increasing trade with Cuba. But in April, Castro cracked down on a dissident movement and sent more than 70 people to jail. He also executed three men convicted of hijacking a boat to go to Florida.

Cuba has accused the United States of stirring unrest and backing the dissidents, while American officials have said that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, just like Iran, North Korea and Syria.

The Pastors for Peace will return to the United States on July 29.

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