Pastors For Peace Update and Action Alert: We’re Headed to Washington and Nothing is Going to Stop Us!

Greetings from Beaumont, Texas!
Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Rev. Lucius Walker, IFCO/Pastors for Peace executive director, and associate director Ellen Bernstein arrived last night in Cuba accompanying a group of 14 new US students who will enroll in the Latin American School of Medicine. Walker and Bernstein have been in Texas the last few weeks working full time in the campaign for the return of humanitarian aid which was seized from their 16th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan on July 21, 2005. While that campaign continues on the road, they are visiting Cuba for several days because of the extraordinary importance of the Latin American Medical School program and the opportunity it offers to reduce health care disparities in the US. They also will attend the first graduation of the Latin American School of Medicine, which will include one graduate from the US.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace plans to continue its campaign for release of the computers and computer equipment seized by US Customs on the orders of the US Commerce Department on July 21. They will take the campaign to Washington next week, to demand release of the aid and also to inform the US public about the dangers of the stepped-up aggression and hostility toward Cuba on the part of the Bush administration and the need to end the blockade.

In the mean time, Fr. Luis Barrios and Bill Hill participated in a prayer vigil that was organized in Houston, to support Cindy’s campaign to stop the war in Iraq, bring the troop back and peace for the Iraqi people. They also participated in a radio program (Pacifica- KPFT-News) with Valerie Torres. Alma Cooper –one of the caravanistas- did all these extraordinary arrangements. Next day they did some media campaign in Houston and also in Beaumont, Texas. Fr. Barrios was trying to visit Ramón Labañino –one of the Cuban Five- however do to “prison security measures” this was not possible. However he had the opportunity to talk to Ramón on the phone and he sent greetings and love to all of you.

Tomorrow, Friday, August 19, Bill and Luis are travelling to Jackson, Mississippi. Saturday, August 20 they are planning to arrive to Birmingham, Alabama, and Sunday, August 21, they are getting together with Lucius and Ellen in Atlanta, Georgia. Monday, August 22, all of them are travelling to Washington, D.C. expecting to be there Wednesday or Thursday. The struggle continues- sí se puede!

CONTACTS:  IFCO/PASTORS FOR PEACE IN THE ROAD: FR. LUIS BARRIOS: 646/319-5902 (cellular) IN NEW YORK: LUCIA BRUNO: 212/926-5757 (office)


Greetings from Dallas, Texas!

Since we headed north from Hidalgo, we have visited Corpus Christi (where we had three TV interviews), San Antonio (more TV and print interviews), and Austin, where we had a wonderful hospitality from a gracious member of our network and did radio interviews for KOOP community radio.  

Over this past weekend, we paid an extended visit to Crawford, Texas, where George W. Bush has his ranch. We spent a long time making the decision to go to Crawford. August is not the best month to be doing outreach to Washington, because Congress is in recess and most elected officials tend to be in their home offices or on vacation. But the national media is always present at the "summer White House" in Crawford; and we wanted to bring national attention to our cause. So we decided that we would head north toward Crawford, as one of the first stops on our way to Washington, as part of a longer tour to raise awareness about our campaign.

One week ago last Sunday, on the night that we had made the decision to go to Crawford, we learned that Cindy Sheehan had just set up her anti-war vigil there. This did not change the purpose of our visit, but it added a new component. We clearly wanted to give support to the urgent campaign to end the war in Iraq, bring the troops home, and bring peace to the Iraqi people, which at the moment Cindy and her late son Casey are symbolizing. We also wanted to draw the connections with the Cuba issues that are at the center of our campaign. As you know, we are not only working for the release of the seized computer aid, and the right to take all our aid to Cuba. We are also doing everything we can to bring attention to the Bush administration's stepped-up efforts to crush Cuba. We are talking about the appointment of a US "administrator" (a la Paul Bremer) for Cuba's supposed transition to a market economy that can be controlled by the US. We are sounding the alert about the always-imminent threat of a US attack or invasion of Cuba. We want to prevent Cuba from being one of Bush's next targets. As we see it, these issues are all part of the same Bush agenda of domination and imperialism.

We were pleased to make a key contribution to the Sunday morning ecumenical service at the "Camp Casey" site where 500 crosses are set in the ground to represent the more than 1800 US soldiers killed in Iraq. Revs. Lucius Walker, Luis Barrios, and Diane Baker all took leadership in the worship service, which was attended by 100 people and covered by the national media.  

We also took part in a fellowship luncheon that reminded us of Pentecost because of its diversity. Brothers and sisters from Iraq, who now live in Texas, prepared a delicious lunch of typical Iraqi foods, which was shared with families of US troops, and veterans, and clergy, and other supporters.

We want to acknowledge the wonderful work of the Crawford Peace House, which hosted our caravan on our way to Cuba, and which now has been the anchor for the ongoing campaign around Cindy Sheehan.

We were pleased and honored to have our yellow schoolbus parked over the weekend at the Crawford Peace House and Camp Casey. Many, many people at the vigil ? and many journalists -- came to talk with us when they saw the bus, and asked about our campaign. We were delighted that people were so receptive and so welcoming to us. Looking at what is going on now in Crawford, we could feel the spirit of a new movement emerging. We were glad to have the chance to express our emotional, social, political and spiritual support, and also to educate people about the interconnections with other issues we care about.  

Now we are in Dallas, networking with local churches and peace and justice networks, and doing media outreach. Last night we held a 6:30pm vigil in front of Dallas City Hall, along with representatives of the Dallas Peace Center, Pax Christi, and the homeless veteran population. Then we had the honor of receiving a two-hour visit from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Johnson has visited Cuba twice, and pledged to increase her advocacy for the release of the computers for Cuba.   

Our plan from here? WE ARE HEADING TO WASHINGTON! Along the way we will be visiting more cities in our network, to gather up support for our campaign. We want to meet with local Pastors for Peace committees. We also want to do a concerted push for media attention. And we REALLY need your help with fundraising.

We are planning a visit to Beaumont, Texas, where Ramon Labañino, one of the five Cubans unjustly imprisoned for defending Cuba against terrorism, remains in prison. We are celebrating the fact that the Atlanta appeals court just overturned the convictions of the Five. We visited the Beaumont prison with the bus dedicated to Ramon when our caravan was on its way south to Cuba. Now we want to visit again to draw more attention to the injustice of the long imprisonment of the Five, and the urgency of bringing the self-confessed terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to justice.

Over these next few days, there is another important event to report and to celebrate. On Wednesday, fifteen new students will be joining the student body of the Latin American School of Medicine. Lucius and Ellen will be with the students to accompany them ? and we will have the honor of being present for the first graduation of the Latin American School of Medicine. One of the 1500 new doctors in the graduating class is from the US ? Cedric Edwards from Slidell, LA. Cedric will be headed home to prepare his application for a residency in a US hospital. We will be so proud to attend the graduation ceremony; and we will also use the time in Cuba to spread the word about our campaign to free the computers.  

While that visit is going on, the Pastors for Peace team will continue on the road! Fr. Luis Barrios and Bill Hill will be traveling through Texas, working alongside our supporters from Houston, Texas; Beaumont, Texas; and Atlanta, Georgia, to get the word out to the media and build support for the campaign to free the computers. We are expecting that this coming Sunday all of us (Lucius, Ellen, Bill & Luis) will be back together in Atlanta; we expect to hold a big educational event that will include the celebration of the overturning of the convictions of the Five Cubans.  

THEN: WE HEAD FOR WASHINGTON! Like we did in 1996, we plan to get right in the faces of the people who make policy decisions. We will be spreading the word, not just about the need to release the computers, but about the need to end the blockade.

SO WHAT DO WE NEED YOU TO DO (AND DO AGAIN!)? Hold vigils! Four weeks ago, we started holding Wednesday prayer vigils on the Hidalgo/Reynosa International Bridge. The effort quickly grew; last week there were 20 vigils for the release of the computers held around the US. Today we learned that Wednesday vigils will also be held in support of Cindy Sheehan's vigil to end the war in Iraq.  

We will continue organizing vigils every Wednesday. We will incorporate the issue of peace in Iraq, and bringing the US troops home, in our weekly vigils; and we are requesting that other organizers include the issue of peace with Cuba, and freeing the seized humanitarian aid, in new vigils that are being organized.  

Get signatures for the pastoral letter and the Cuban American letter.  Our website, www.pastorsforpeace.org, has the link to Petitions On Line.

Keep making calls to Commerce, Customs, State, and Congress.  Jayson Ahern, Assistant Commissioner of Customs: 202/344-1620 Cuba Desk, State Department: 202/647/9273 Michael Turner, Director of Export Enforcement, Commerce Department: 202/482-1208,ext. 3 Visit your senators' and representative's offices during the August recess. Show them how much you care about US/Cuba policy!

Help us raise funds to keep this campaign on the road to Washington! Send your tax-deductible donation to IFCO/Pastors for Peace, 402 W. 145th Street, New York, NY 10031.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR CONTINUING SUPPORT! This is an issue that we can win!  

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