Pastors for Peace potluck discusses Cuba trade embargo

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — During a potluck Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Columbia, friendly dinner talk focused on the importance of acts of civil disobedience and free trade.

That is because on July 24, a mismatched caravan of vehicles — six school buses, an RV, a large truck and a car — is expected to drive across the Texas border into Mexico and attempt to bring humanitarian aid and supplies to Cuba. 

This is illegal, but to some members of Pastors for Peace it seems necessary. Pastors for Peace is a ministry of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization that focuses on giving aid and educational tools to impoverished areas of the world.

Joe Maldonado, an adult education instructor, is a caravanista working with Pastors for Peace. Caravanistas help with such tasks as packing and sorting the donations, driving the buses and distributing aid.

 “I’m breaking the law to prove a point, and to give and to receive,” Maldonado said.

Pastors for Peace think that the embargo on Cuba, “is an immoral policy that uses hunger and disease as political weapons,” according to the IFCO Web site. As a result, individuals have decided to join together as far north as Canada, and drive south to Mexico, to bring humanitarian aid to Cuba.

The aid includes items such as wheelchairs, medical supplies and construction materials. These materials are intended to help rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Ike.

“We don’t want to be the bullies of this hemisphere anymore,” said Ellen Bernstein, who is a caravanista for Pastors for Peace and has taken part in 18 Congressional sojourns to Cuba.

Bernstein said more than 500,000 homes were damaged in the hurricanes. Cuba refused to accept aid from the U.S., because of what it felt were unfair stipulations that would allow the U.S. to spy, Bernstein said.

Yet on offering to buy the supplies from the U.S. at market price, Cuba was refused because of the trade restrictions.  

The U.S. is the only country that does not have friendly trade agreements with Cuba, said the Rev. Larry Brown, who is also an assistant professor of geography at MU.

Pastors for Peace said the benefit of lifting the trade embargo would be that both countries could profit from the trading.

Bob Abplanalp, a member of Pastors for Peace, said American farmers would benefit from being able to sell rice to Cuba, which Cuba now purchases from Vietnam.

“I think younger, and even older generations, see that the sanctions just plain don’t work,” Abplanalp said. “But they’ve been going on for so long, it just became a very bad habit.”

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