Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba Can’t Be Stopped

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Father Luis Barrios, president of the Board of Directors of Pastors for Peace (with his daughter Amanda), and Gail Walker, executive director

By Leni Reeves

The Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba means solidarity with Cuba and working for change in the United States. It is civil disobedience, which means breaking a law to point out how wrong it is. The caravan travels to Cuba without a license from the U.S. government, and participants take aid as solidarity, not charity, breaking the blockade and travel ban.

The caravan returns on July 5. Given the Trump regime’s current focus on Cuba and Venezuela, the U.S. government might try to harass or penalize the caravan. The caravan might need the progressive community to come to its defense.

The caravan extends solidarity to the Cuban people and provides an opportunity to learn about Cuba through direct experience. This year, the caravan will travel to Havana and to the province of Cienfuegos to explore how the Cuban people are moving forward in healthcare, organic farming and sustainable tourism.

Participants will see the diversity of religious expression in Cuba and Cubaʼs efforts to tackle legacies of racism, sexism, homophobia and more. In Matanzas, the Museum at the Bay of Pigs commemorates the defeat of the U.S. backed invasion of Cuba in 1961.

The trip will include a visit to the Latin American Medical School in Havana, which trains thousands of young people from around the world to be doctors and return to their countries to serve poor communities. There are currently 70 students from the United States on full scholarships from the Cuban government.

Four Fresno area persons are in the caravan to Cuba this year, and many others from the area have been on past caravans. Participants have included students, professors, attorneys, teachers, veterans, community workers, Chicano activists, a physician, an organic farmer, a musician and more. All are welcome, from any religion or none; all one needs is a conscience.

“Cuba—I would say it’s a once in a lifetime experience in history for a person who’s never been there,” says Ralphy Avitia, a teacher and an attorney. “It’s both magical yet real because one is amazed by all the false misconceptions about Cuba yet due to the blockade it’s also in economic need.

“I’d also say that any activist or artist who aspires to be a better, more humble, human being should see the real Cuba with all its vibrant colors and musical tastes.”

Leni Villagomez Reeves, a doctor and solidarity activist who has been on many trips to Cuba, both with the caravan and independently, says that “one of the things that really appeals to me about Cuba [is] that they realized from the beginning that teaching people to read and write is a revolutionary act. Cuba is a small country trying to work out a way to provide opportunity and the necessities of life for all its citizens, not just the privileged few.

“The United States, the largest economic and military power in the world, is trying to strangle this little country economically, so it doesn’t provide a ‘bad example’ of economic justice and resistance to neocolonialism to the rest of Latin America and the world in general. We need to end the blockade of Cuba now.”

“It has been a lifelong dream to be able to go to Cuba, and I am excited to be able to support the Cuban people through the caravan, as well as to gain new friendships,” said Anoush Ekparian, a teacher. “Personally, it is of great importance that I see firsthand how imperialism and colonialism have affected the Cuban people.

“How do they view us after decades of U.S. economic sanctions? I hope the personal stories I hear help us build bridges to a stronger U.S.-Cuba movement.”

Gerry Bill, a retired professor currently working to help end homelessness in Fresno who has been on many caravans, says that “there is so much misinformation about Cuba from our government and in our mass media that most people in the U.S. have a very distorted picture of life in Cuba. There is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. I urge everyone to visit Cuba.”

“Well, I’m excited. Finally I get to see for myself the realities of Cuban life under the blockade,” explains Joshua Shurley, professor and organizer of the Fresno branch of Veterans for Peace (VFP).

“And I expect it to be a similar story to so many other places deemed ‘bad’ by the U.S. government. A place where healthcare is a human right, where a country that’s not stamped with the approval of American ‘democracy’ is actually a far more democratic society in terms of everyday life.

“And all of this in the face of dire economic conditions not as a result of the amorphous ‘evil’ called socialism. But as a result of the illegal and immoral blockade. An act of war!

“As a VFP chapter organizer, I’m excited to learn firsthand about the revolution. And in particular, Cuba’s work in supporting people’s freedom from apartheid in Africa. But militarism aside, the fact that their priority is positivity, not death and destruction.

“I’m excited to see what is possible. What a country can do when it stays true to the principles of its revolutionary founding. And what it can teach other countries like the U.S. who use their revolutionary history as slogans and a narrative to maintain slavery, murder the indigenous and build an empire based on inequality and militarism.”

All should be outraged by what Trump is doing, but that outrage needs to be turned into action. Trump doesn’t want the caravan to travel to Cuba, so it must travel to Cuba. Trump is putting obstacles in the way, and the caravan must overcome those obstacles.

Visit www.ifconews.org for more information.

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Leni Reeves is a local physician and activist. Contact her at lenivreeves@gmail.com.