April 2, 2016
President Obama’s recent visit to Cuba got me thinking about how I did my small bit to encourage the U.S. government to lift its embargo against the Caribbean island with the while sandy beaches that rate in the top among any in the world.
What did I do?
September 21, 2006
Excerpts from a Caravanista’s Journal
by Tanya Lester
On Junet 18, 2006, I set out on the 17th Friendship Caravan to Cuba which took 60 tons of humanitarian aid on ten slogan-plastered buses, ustCrucks and ambulances to Tampico, Mexico where the aid was loaded onto a Cuban ship. There are ten caravan routes through the United States (four began in Canada, including mine which began at the Peace Arch border crossing near White Rock).
Another aspect of the collective caravans is to protest the US trade embargo againt Cuba, which began in 1962. Each evening, we stopped at an event organized by supporters along the way, who then billeted us for the night. The following are excerpts from my travel journal:
June 19, Portland, Oregon: Carol Cross, our Route B speaker, talked about 43 computers that US Customs officers seized from the Caravan last year. After Pastors for Peace, the Caravan organizers, threatened a law suit against the US Department of Justice for failing to provide a reason for holding the donated computers, they were returned less than a month before the 2006 Caravan began. By that time, outraged Cuba solidarity groups in Europe, who heard of the US government confiscation, had donated so many computers to the Caribbean country, that they were no longer needed there. The 43 computers were instead donated to the New Orleans hurricane survivors.
June 20, Corvalis, Oregon: Juanita Rodrigez, our host, provided the organic restaurant owner who catered our event with recipes passed down from her Cuban mother-in-law. “What I like most about the Caravan is that it is a movement of people-to-people,” said Rodrigez. Frank Morse, the Republican state senator, attended the evening on his own initiative. After Carol Cross gave a speech in which she was candid about the U. S. government’s negligence in its relationship to Cuba, Morse told her privately that he was not offended and agreed with everything, she said. Even Republicans, we are told, are now distancing themselves from the President Bush administration.
June 21, Eugene, Oregon: At the church where our event takes place, a young Cuban American woman, who has her baby in a stroller with her, makes a lot of purchases from the t-shirt table which I oversee. She says she knows the money will benefit Cubans. For three years, she tells me, she has been unable to visit her family in Cuba. This is since the Bush administration changed a policy that allowed Cuban Americans to visit Cuba once a year to once every three years.
June 22, Ashland, Oregon: We get to take a look at a shed jampacked with bicycles for Cuba. They even hang from the ceiling. Brad Jones, a long-time Caravan supporter, collects and repairs these bikes year round. The Cuban goal is for each family to own one bicycle as a form of transportation to work.
June 23, Chico, California: In the 103 F heat, we have our first tire blow-out. At the Peace and Justice Centre, we show the film called Who’s Afraid of the Little Yellow School Bus? It tell the story of a in a tiscaravanista hunger strike in 1995.
It was provoked when US Customs refused to allow a bus to go across the US-Mexican border as it was destined to go on the ship of donations to Cuba. After 23 days, the bus was released. A university professor buys a copy of the video to show his students. ‘What faculty are you in?” I ask. “That doesn’t matter,” he replies. He turns out to be in physical eAmeducation and business administration. Obviously, he is a true educator in the broadest sense of the word.
June 24, Berkeley, California: Berserkley, as resident Carol Cross lovingly calls it, is like a mecca for someone like me who started out in the university student press in the ’70s. There is a Free Speech Movement Café there dedicated to the students who were arrested for protesting against the Vietnam War.
June 25, Palo Alto, California: We attend a Quaker Service, followed by Carol Cross’ slide show presentation. Included in her discussion is information about the Torricelli Amendment. This is a US government policy which dictates that any ship docking in Cuba cannot dock in the United States for six months. This means other countries seldom trade with Cuba as they cannot afford to boycott the much larger American market. Also, if a manufacturer trades anything that has a US part in it to Cuba, it can no longer purchase that part from the US.
June 25, San Jose, California: Our presentation is in a Baptist Church attended by African-Americans and whites. Two older women host the event while two young men (one the pastor) prepare the food and clean-up afterwards. Here, like everywhere else, there are scathing comments against Bush.
June 26, Santa Barbara, California: A retired Latin American professor who co-hosts the events tell me how the embargo affects the pursuit of knowledge. A Latin-American Studies Conference is moved from Cuba to the United States. The Cubans cannot attend because of the blockade.
June 27, Los Angeles, California: Our event is held at the Los Angeles Workers Centre, owned by the Communist Party . To raise money for the Caravan, a bottle of Cuban rum is auctioned of with two glasses and a folktale that Fidel Castro and Che Guevera used them to toast the revolution.
June 28, Phoenix, Arizona: After two tire blowouts in the Arizona desert, we finally arrive in this sprawling city where shopping for tires becomes the priority. Our host has a swimming pool in his townhouse complex.
Jrune 29, Silver City, New Mexico: Upon finding out I am Canadian, our host tells me, “You are so lucky. I am so stressed out with everything that is happening in the United States.” He has a poyyster on his wall: “America is Addicted to Oil.” His group donates a baby incubator to go to a Cuban hospital.
June 30, El Paso, Texas: Before arriving here, word reaches us through astatic-filled cellphone that a 17-year-old activist will join the caravan here. Turns out Anne Herman is actually 70 but she certtainly is an activist. She is one of several grandmothers who have been arrested while protest-trespassing on the School of the Americas the grounds, where the US government trains Latin American military in torture techniques.
July 2, San Antonio, Texas: At a Unitarian Fellowship service, caravanista Nancy Abbey reads an email from a friend now living in Cuba. She tells the story of an elderly friend, who having breast cancer, wants to get tested for bone cancer. She cannot get tested as all the machines to do this test, at three different hospitals, are broken. The part they need is manufactured in the United States.
July 2-5, McAllen, Texas: All Caravan routes meet. Almost 100 caravanistas prepare to cross the border into Mexico. For US citizens, it is against the law to collect aid or go to Cuba. We go through 60 tons of aid to make sure everything listed in the boxes, actuallyu is in the boxes. A local supporter gets us spots in the 4th of July parade. Our buses with “Impeach Bush” bumper stickers seem out of place among the marching military units, American flags and beauty queens. Most of the 2,000-strong crowd seems to like us: return our peace sign salutes and clap.
July 6, Reynosa, Mexico: All ten vicles filled with caravanistas and aid get across the US-Mexican borhader without being stopped. Speculation has it that we took the border guards by surprise because we crossed at a different border than the Caravan did in previous years.
July 7, Tampico, Mexico: The two buses and two ambulances destined for Cuba are packed full with bikes, wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, medicine, sports equipment, educational supplies and other aid. Boxes are also loaded in large containers. Everything is prepared for the ship.
July 8: Many caravanistas fly on to spend a week in Cuba. Others return to their in the United States and Canada.
For more information and stories contact PastorsforPeace.org.
Tanya does intuitive counselling (tea leaf reading and tarot) and house sits. To find out how you can access these services contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-538-0086. Her website is teareading.wordpress.com and her pages are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google.
Tanya’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader (to buy it contact her or amazon.com), Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters, and Women Rights/Writes.