Joint Statement and Report by Occupy Border groups:
Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and the BC Aid Network for Cuba (BCANC)www.vancubasolidarity.com | www.bcanc.orgJuly 6, 2012In memory of a true fighter for peace and social justice causes Rev. Lucius Walker, the founder of IFCO/Pastors for Peace and the inspirer and founder of the Pastors for Peace Caravan to CubaVictory for the Caravan to Cuba!Victory for the Cuban People!Victory for Humanity!U.S. and Canadian activists with the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba, organized by IFCO/Pastors for Peace and local groups and individuals, joined together to break the U.S. blockade against Cuba – a truck of humanitarian aid previously denied and rejected by U.S. customs officials is now on its way to Cuba!
U.S. Government Challenges the Caravan to Cuba
This year’s 20th Anniversary Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba has begun and is riding on the victory of a successful struggle against the U.S. government at the West Coast’s Canada/US border crossing. After over 24 hours of continuous protest and resistance by Caravanistas and their supporters, without the imposed payment of a bond for any part of the humanitarian aid, the previously denied truck full of medical and sports equipment destined for Cuba crossed successfully into the U.S. in the afternoon of Monday July 2nd. This truck is part of the 23rd Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba, which openly challenges the U.S. trade and travel blockade that has been imposed on Cuba for over 50 years.This important victory for the Caravan was short but intense, the culmination of events beginning with the unsuccessful attempt to send the humanitarian aid into the U.S. on Sunday July 1st at the Peace Arch Border Crossing, the border of Vancouver and Washington State. Diverted from this first attempt, protesters followed the truck over to the commercial Pacific Highway Truck Crossing, just a few miles away, where the second unsuccessful attempt to cross was made later in the evening. At this time, Caravanistas were told that the aid would not be let through without a bond and that negotiations were closed for the night. Caravanistas and Cuba solidarity activists immediately decided to occupy the border until their demands for the release of the humanitarian aid into the United States were met.Resist, Organize, FightbackAbout 40 protesters on both sides of the crossing, who originally came earlier to the Peace Arch border crossing, started chanting and waving Cuban flags. In the meantime, Vancouver activists set up their first tent and covered the fence and surroundings with Cuban flags, Free the Cuban 5 Heroes picket signs and banners demanding “Lift the Blockade!” and “U.S. Hands Off Cuba!” They also put out a big sandwich board saying “Honk for Cuba, Let the Aid Through!”Protesters continued from both sides of the border chanting “Let the aid through!”, “Lift the blockade on Cuba now!”, and “U.S. Hands Off Cuba!” In order to make sure that U.S. border authorities understood that Caravanistas were serious about their demands and this would be a long battle, a second tent, tables, chairs, sleeping bags, food and a space for the outreach and media teams was set up. A generator was started to provide power for the various teams of Occupy Border. Next, the line of communication with the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba in New York was established and the next line of actions and legal work planned. Continuing into the night and onto the next day activists maintained the protest site directly in front of the U.S. border with one clear message - we won’t go until our demands are met! From just about 1 AM Monday July 2nd until dawn, occupiers wrote a press release and statements and called for a press conference for the same day to be held directly in front of the border crossing, the spot called Occupy Border.Caravanistas and their supporters were left with no choice by U.S. border authorities but to resist and challenge this exclusion to whatever stage necessary to fight back. It was clear to everyone in Occupy Border that blocking the humanitarian aid is, in nature, an act of punishing Cuba and the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba. It is also true that holding up the Caravan at the border is part of the political, economical and financial blockade that the U.S. government has been waging and imposing on Cuba for more than 50 years. However, the atmosphere of Occupy Border was nothing but to resist injustice. The spirit of struggle was high and unbreakable and we declared very clearly - we will fight until we win!The Battle of Public Opinion and MediaOn Monday at 12 noon all major media in Canada attended our press conference. About 14 radio, TV and newspapers covered all we wanted the people of the world to hear - lift the blockade of Cuba, let the aid pass through! The presence of full scale media was impressive. It was obvious to U.S. border authorities that the case was not local anymore and that the pressure would mount more and more every hour on an international level. Indeed, in the next 24 hours thousands of pieces of news coverage came through mainstream media, the internet and social media activists. The world, from Canada to Mexico and Ecuador, to Australia and China and Pakistan, and from Iran and Palestine to Turkey and Germany and Spain and Tunisia and Britain, saw how the U.S. government was so desperately blocking baseball hats and soccer balls to protect 50 years of the inhuman and criminal blockade of Cuba. We defeated the U.S. government and its blockade in world public opinion even before humanitarian aid from the province of British Columbia in Canada passed through the border. While organizers and activists were trying to expand outreach to the world, the e-mails, calls and text messages became an ongoing stream into our phones, computers and tablets. From Vancouver, and indeed around the world, friends and supporters informed us about the news, and about how they received the news through media like radio and TV, as well as social media like Facebook, Twitter and also public announcements and statements.
Legal Team Combined with Activism on the Ground: a Powerful ToolThis victory over the U.S. blockade of Cuba truly could not have been possible without the tremendous work of the IFCO/Pastors for Peace legal team with the help and advice of Linda Backiel, attorney for Pastors for Peace, and of course the direct intervention, coordination and leadership of Gail Walker, Co-director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.The very effective work of the legal team, combined with two of our organizers inside the U.S. Customs building as well as the ongoing protest on the both sides of the border crossing and of course a very strong presence of media, forced the border authorities to reverse their previous decision. At just about 2pm, after 24 hours of a battle of ideas, a battle for humanity, the truck full of humanitarian aid for Cuba passed the border. Cheers of victory filled the air all over the U.S. and Canada border locations. Cheering for victory and chanting “U.S. Hands Off Cuba!” with waving Cuban flags and many picket signs for the Five Cuban Heroes all on the same line of the border for cars and trucks to see, created a space filled with the scent of justice and hope. Justice for the Cuban people and hope for releasing our 5 Cuban Heroes from U.S. jails and parole.It is only with fightback that we will win!Hands Off Cuba!Venceremos!