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Caravan to Cuba leaves Portland Today

This morning the Oregon contingent of the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba leaves from Portland in its yellow school bus, one of 15 buses in North America heading toward the Mexican border at McAllen, Texas. 150 disobedient citizens are taking part in this 15th annual caravan, carrying donated supplies of all kinds to Cuba in a symbolic defiance of the 45-year old U.S. blockade of the island country, and George Bush's recent tightening of that blockade with even more restrictions on travel and trade.

Oregon's contribution to this year's fleet of buses to Cuba
Oregon's contribution to this year's fleet of buses to Cuba

At last night's send-off of the Oregon bus, Alicia Jrapko and other past and current Pastors for Peace Caravan participants gave a presentation summarizing the current situation and plans. The bus was financed in part by Portland's chapter of the War Resister's League and will carry a variety of aid material given by donors across the city, including 20 computers from Free Geek.

The bus will stop first in Corvallis this afternoon, where children will paint panels on its side. It will then proceed south down the west coast, crossing into Mexico at McAllen, Texas. Hopefully they will not run afoul of the new Bush policies, which include serious fines, such as $50,000 charged to a couple from Vermont recently. Professional research licenses to visit Cuba have been cancelled, relatives of Cubans have been restricted to only 1 visit every 3 years (and now only immediate relatives - siblings, children, parents), and twelve federal judges have been assigned to deal with these cases (compare this to the the 1 judge assigned to citizens attempting to transport aid to Afghanistan!)

If the caravan runs into trouble, a Rapid Response Network has been set up to notify people back in towns where the participants are from, so that they can get the word out.

See the P4P site for more information.
also see: Free the Cuban Five

P4P leaves Corvallis 24.Jun.2004 20:24

Juanita Rodriguez juanitar@proaxis.com

The bus arrived in Corvallis on Wednesday afternoon to a small crowd of volunteer painters and caravanistas. For 24 hours it was parked at the main store of First Alternative, and attracted the attention of passers -by and shoppers.
Under the direction of Willow Fox, a local muralist, it was decorated with douglas fir trees, desert mesas, and a green island among blue waves.....

Alicia Jrapko, from the national office of Free the Five in SF, painted a Cuban flag on each side and a Free the Five banner. The bus was named "La Poderosa", or "The Powerful One", and some 15 year old volunteers figured out how to get it in the compartment that had formerly read SCHOOL BUS.

FROM OREGON TO CUBA was printed boldly on both sides, there was a peace symbol, as well as flowers around the headlights...... signs in the window read "STOP BUSH'S AGGRESSION AGAINST CUBA" , "END THE BLOCKADE", "PEACE"..... Portland, Oregon, Corvallis, Oregon and Ashland, Oregon was printed over the rear tire well to acknowledge the 3 Oregon communities that had raised the money to sponsor this donation to the people of Cuba.

The local Committees of Correspondence met with the caravanistas and Alicia. Fidel's letter to G Bush was discussed as well as Leonard Weinglass's strategy to get a change of venue for the Cuban 5. We learned from Alicia of the importance of our work in extending hope and solidarity to these men in US prisons.

Later, a public meeting was held at a local restaurant where more questions were raised, and discussion continued.

At 11 am on Thursday, June 24th, the bus left Corvallis with 2 more caravanistas (total = 3 plus the driver at this point!) and was headed for events and a potluck in Ashland, OR.

....Following is a story (photo on web page  http://www.gazettetimes.com....do a search for "Cuba" and it will come up) that was on the front page of our local Corvallis Gazette Times. Theresa Hogue is an ally in disguise, and interviewed the caravanistas, Alicia, and myself.....spent a good hour or more with us.

The bus left Corvallis at 11am this morning and should now be in Ashland.....


Thursday, June 24, 2004
Last modified Wednesday, June 23, 2004 11:41 PM PDT

Pastors for Peace head for Cuba

Gazette-Times reporter
Sitting in the parking lot of the First Alternative Co-op on Wednesday afternoon, Linda Geiser, right, works on a last-minute peace sign for the bus she and her daughter, Coralie Backlund, left, will leave in tomorrow morning, bound for Cuba.

Group to defy U.S. embargo to deliver aid
At first glance, the giant yellow school bus sitting in the parking lot of the First Alternative Co-op looked like a circus caravan, with its mural of forests and seas, and a dove flitting across its hood.

But "La Poderosa," Spanish for "The Powerful One," as the bus is known, isn't intended for entertainment purposes. Its mission is a serious one, and those planning to board the bus have one thing in mind: to break U.S. laws.
The bus is headed to Havana, Cuba, where the supplies it carries will be distributed to Cubans in need, in defiance of a U.S. embargo against Cuba. The bus itself will be put on a boat and shipped to Havana, where it will be used for public transportation.
In addition, the bus will be filled with members of Pastors for Peace from Oregon and California, who will cross the border into Mexico, and from there take a boat to Cuba, also in defiance of restrictions against travel to Cuba from the United States. The organization believes the U.S. embargo causes undue harm to the Cuban people by restricting their access to needed medical supplies and other humanitarian aid.
Linda Geiser doesn't look like someone prepared to break the law. In her paint-spattered shirt and sweatpants, she looks more like a mom with too many things on her plate.
"The main reason I'm going is I feel this weight on my shoulders from the effects U.S. policy is having on people in the world," she said. "I'd personally like to do something for peace."
Geiser's 15-year-old daughter, Coralie Backlund, will accompany her, and the duo will be the only Corvallis participants on the bus, which was purchased with a combination of donations from Portland, Corvallis and Ashland. They'll be joined by participants from Ashland as well as several California cities, and will rally in McAllen, Texas, where they'll meet 14 other Pastors for Peace vehicles, all destined for Cuba, or at least, for the east coast of Mexico. All the vehicles will cross the U.S.-Mexican border at the same time.
The bus in the co-op parking lot was painted by Willow Fox, a local artist, with additional help from volunteers such as Geiser, who showed up Wednesday afternoon to put finishing touches on the sides of the bus. It was set to depart this morning on its way south.
The journey is symbolic as much as it is a way to provide a few needed goods to the Cuban people. Since 1992, the organization has sent caravans of people and supplies to Cuba, directly flying in the face of U.S. policy on Cuba by refusing to obtain licenses to travel there, the only legal way Americans can visit the country.
"It's a civil act of disobedience," said Juanita Rodriguez, a Pastors for Peace member who has traveled to Cuba several times with the organization.
The operation is always risky, as it is possible the groups could be stopped at the Mexico border, or that their supplies, which this time include bicycles, psychology textbooks and computers, could be seized by the U.S. government. In the history of the operation, the caravans have been prevented several times from making the trip, but hunger strikes and media attention garnered public support, and the caravans were eventually able to proceed.
Alicia Jrapko, a San Francisco member of Pastors for Peace as well as a member of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, traveled to Corvallis to see the bus off. She got involved with a 1995 caravan after hearing reports on her local radio news station about the work of Pastors for Peace.
Jrapko believes the blockade against Cuba is immoral and harmful to the Cuban people, and said Americans should be able to travel there freely.
"The government shouldn't tell people where they can go or who they can help," she said. "The aid is really symbolic. The idea of the project is to make a statement against the blockade."
Beginning July 1, new restrictions from the Bush administration will make legal travel to Cuba even more difficult. Cuban Americans will only be allowed to visit their relatives in Cuba every three years, and the embargo will be further tightened.
"Its intent is to strangle the Cuban economy," Jrapko said.
What she doesn't understand is the government's insistence that Americans should not be allowed to visit Cuba, and she doesn't believe it's merely to prevent American dollars from benefiting the Cuban economy.
"What is it we're going to see there?" she said.
For more information on Pastors for Peace, see www.ifconews.org and click on Pastors for Peace.
Theresa Hogue is the higher education reporter for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached by e-mail at  theresa.hogue@lee.net or by phone at 758-9526.