Monday, July 20, 2009

ellen shares a brief history of ifco and the pastors for peace

you can see photos from today's press conference if you click here.

and there are photos from san antonio texas here. (note the 'beer scoop' that sandino is adeptly demonstrating -- the ultimate in couch potato paraphernalia.)


in 1960 something a national black conference took place in the usa. it brought people together from all over, and called for reparations for all the years of slavery. the reverend lucius walker jr. (founder of the pastors for peace, leaving tomorrow on its 20th caravan to cuba) chaired the conference.

as a result, the national anti-klan network, now known as the centre for democratic renewal, was formed. support for offered renewal projects in central america via a group called rains - relief for africans in need in the sechelles.

ifco began organizating delegations to central america in the 1980s and a central america information week. folks witnessed the liberation movement of central america, which was all about health care and education, and people who had been oppressed finding their dignity and transforming the government.

lucius was shot while leading a delegation in nicaragua on august 3, 1988, riding on a passenger ferry called the 'mission of peace.' the contras attacked, ronald reagans' 'freedom fighters' were on both sides of the river, shooting for about 10 minutes. people died, lucius' daughter witnessed it, 29 people were injured. lucius toook a bullet in one of his buttocks which, they say, taught him to turn the other cheek. lucius announced, the following day, the formation of the pastors for peace. he said the news story isn't about a minister being shot, it's about the oppression the guatemalans have to live with every day.

while pastors werre forming and beginning to organize, a hurricane hit and it was decided that big box trucks were required to help where needed - ellen estimates about 60 altogether.

the soviet union collapsed, and cuba lost 85% of its trade overnight. this changed things in cuba dramatically. congressman toricelli, where ellen lived, had his district reorganized to include a lot of cuban americans. they gave him $250,000 and he rewrote the united states' relationship with cuba. the toricelli law says not only can't cuba trade with the usa, they also can't buy stuff from any company that has any ownership connections to the usa. there's also a shipping penalty - any ship that touches a port in cuba is forbidden from docking in the usa for 180 days or they may have their ship confiscated. so cuba is forced to sail around the world to trade goods with friendly nations.

in 1996 the helms burton law was passed. ellen figures jesse helms was one of the most famous racists ever. he was allowed to be head of the foreign relations committee. his bill said that any goods containing components made in cuba cannot be bought by any foreign government.

the intention has been to destroy the revolution, to give it back to the mafia who ran a hedonistic gambling and prostitution empire. they just hate the thought that they've lost. even 50 years later, they just don't get it.

there are organizations who obtain licenses from the usa government, getting 'permission' to go to cuba. how paternalistic is that? "please, mr. government, i'd like to take supplies to the people in cuba who you're trying to kill." the pastors for peace have never asked for a license. it's just not their way. in fact, there's some sentiment that if all those other organizations hadn't asked for permission, had just lived their consciences and done the work that humanitarians ought to do, perhaps those licenses wouldn't exist anymore. perhaps the embargo wouldn't exist anymore. perhaps we'd be able to look at cuba, to study its constitution, to allow them to determine their own destiny - with or without our assistance, depending on what they might want from us. besides, ellen says, there are all kinds of complications with trying to get the licenses and then, upon returning to the land of the free, proving that you went and did what you intended to do, etc etc etc.

and the government brags about how it 'allows' goods and people to go to cuba. ellen was at a meeting where toricelli was speaking, and he said something about 'allowing' the pastors for peace to take aid to cuba. and ellen stood up and said 'excuse me, you beat us up when we tried!'

despite all their challenges, the cubans have not only thrived, they've prospered - in many ways. in ways that can't be measured by money.