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Group will challenge Cuba embargo

By Angel Gonzalez Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday October 24, 2000

A yellow school bus that carried those who will defy the United States embargo against Cuba stopped Sunday at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists. 

On its side, the vehicle sported a hand painted sign declaring “Cuba is not our enemy.” A tree of friendship adorned the left side of the bus and a blue dove of peace stood next to it. The portrait of Che Guevara was painted on the right side. On the rear window, a bumper sticker read: “Reality is for people who lack imagination.” 

The travelers, organized by Pastors for Peace, left Monday for Fresno. 

In San Antonio, Texas, it will meet other caravans from the East Coast and the midwestern states. The large group will then cross the border together and fly via the national Cuban airline from Tampico, Mexico, to Havana. Many Americans fly to Mexico or the Bahamas to avoid the watchful eye of U.S. authorities.  

“But we are publicly breaking the embargo, and telling the U.S. Treasury Department that we will go to Cuba,” said Alicia Jrapko, organizer of Sunday’s send off. 

For American citizens, it is legal to go to the Caribbean island. However, Americans are prohibited from spending money under laws governing trade with an enemy. 

“We oppose the embargo to demonstrate our solidarity with the Cuban people. This doesn’t mean that we’re Communists. We just believe in self-determination,” Jrapko said. “The Cuban system is not perfect, but it has a more humanist line than other regimes. While America bombs other countries, Cuba exports doctors,” she said. 

Inside church, a Cuban flag hung next to a poster of Che Guevara adorned with the slogan “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.” A group of musicians played John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and some Zapatista songs. 

Six people descended from the bus. Among them was Alfred Dale, a retired Methodist pastor from Washington, and leader of the West Coast caravan. He was the keynote speaker Sunday. 

“We will be among the 600 U.S. citizens who will attend the Second International Conference for Friendship and Solidarity with Cuba,” said Dale. He joined Pastors for Peace in 1988, and went to Cuba for the first time in 1992. “We also want to help install a solar plant in a school in the Pinar del Rio Province,” he said. 

“We believe the embargo is immoral, because sanctions are always aimed at the people,” he said. “Besides, we don’t think the government should block people’s right to go where ever they want to.” 

Regarding Pastors for Peace’s attitude towards political freedom on the island, Dale said that when he visited Cuba, he could talk to anyone and was followed only by his translators, since he doesn’t speak Spanish.  

“In the Cuban parliament, more than 80 percent of the members are new. That’s more than we have,” Dale said. 

When asked about his opinion on the status of political prisoners, he said: “If you are a saboteur, they throw you in prison. Every government defends itself against aggressors. There are more than 400 political prisoners in the U.S.”  

Regarding the treatment of dissident intellectuals, he said that he didn’t know of any such case, but that if intellectuals wrote against the government, it was because they felt under-compensated. “They get greedy. But if they cared about the people, they wouldn’t pay attention to that, “ he said. 

Amnesty International’s 2000 report on Cuba paints a different picture. It says there are more than 350 political prisoners. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports that in Cuba, groups using only peaceful means to stand up for human rights, including trade union rights, are persecuted in various ways.  

“They are charged with ‘enemy propaganda,’ ‘contempt,’ ‘unlawful association,’ ‘clandestine possession of printed matter,’ ‘posing a danger,’ ‘rebellion,’ and ‘acts against state  

security,’” according to the report.