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Cuba Caravan in Corvallis

Cuba Caravan arrives in Corvallis
Following is a story (photo on web page
 http://www.gazettetimes.com....do a search for "Cuba" and it will come up)

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


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
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.