Monday, July 9, 2007

Rhode Island

Bus to Cuba stops in Providence

Wednesday, July 4, 2007
By Karen Lee Ziner Journal Staff Writer
Photo: Andrew Dickerman

PROVIDENCE — More than humanitarian aid, the Cuban people need respect and equal treatment, said the Rev. Luis Barrios, a member of Pastors for Peace and a participant in the 18th annual Friendship Caravan to Cuba that stopped in Providence yesterday in its challenge to the U.S. blockade against Cuba.

The white school bus with “Cuba Si!” (Cuba Yes!) painted on the front, parked downtown as its three occupants met with a dozen supporters at the Cuban Revolution Restaurant on Aborn Street. Supporters included Wallace Sillanpoa, of Rhode Island Friends of Cuba, and Shane Jones, of Hands Off Venezuala.

The bus is one of 14 traveling from Canada and across the United States through its sponsor, the Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization — Pastors for Peace. The buses and their occupants will converge at the U.S. border with Mexico. Volunteers will then travel to Cuba, bringing humanitarian aid.

Barrios said the real point is defiance toward U.S. foreign policy that declares Cuba an enemy nation and restricts U.S. citizen travel to the island.

“For more than four years, the Bush administration has persisted in its blockade — a political, economical, cultural and spiritual blockade, against Cuba,” said Barrios.

“The U.N. has been saying to the U.S. government for 40 years that this is illegal and immoral [and to] mind your own business. Don’t interfere,” said Barrios. “But the Cuban people need to make their own decisions. If they want to be a socialist country, we should respect that. We don’t go there to change things we don’t like. And they don’t come here to change things they don’t like.”

Though many Americans travel to Cuba through Mexico, Canada or the Dominican Republic — countries that do not restrict such travel — Americans are likely to be challenged by immigration officials upon return, when they are unable to show the required licenses issued by the Treasury Department.

Barrios said that consistently happens to the Friendship Caravan to Cuba. And that’s the point.

“We tell them we’re not hiding. We went, and when we come back they start interrogating us. Border security, FBI, CIA — we tell them we’re not going to answer any questions,” beyond name and address, he said.

“And they say, ‘You went to an enemy country,’ ”and issue notices that the caravan members are subject to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 each. The group then turns over the government notices to its lawyers, said Barrios, and so far, no one has been penalized. He said he believes that would be “too politically dangerous” for the U.S. government to do so.

“We don’t want to go to jail. But we are ready,” he said, if that’s what it takes to create a political firestorm that will change U.S. policy.


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