Pastors for Peace raises money for Cuban delivery caravan

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 | 11:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Plucking on his wooden guitar, Jeff Moran sang about wanting to go back to Cuba in front of attendees in Centro Latino's Comedor Popular or "People's Diner."

The dinner was part of a national fundraising effort for Pastors for Peace, which raises money to bring supplies to Cuba. This year marks the 25th delivery by the group, which started its project in 1992.

The group has been crossing the U.S. and Canada in 12 vehicles since July 3 in what they call a caravan. Different groups from Pastors for Peace will stop in a total of 68 cities over the course of the month before all of the vehicles meet in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday.

The dinner, which was co-sponsored by the Mid-Missouri Peace Coalition, the PET Mobility Project and Centro Latino, raised $850 to help ship four donated Personal Energy Transportation carts to Cuba, said Buddy Bell, a caravanista for Pastors for Peace. The hand-powered wheelchairs, which provide mobility and transportation for those who cannot walk, are made in Columbia.

In addition to PETs, the group will also deliver construction supplies, walkers, wheelchairs, medical machines, bicycles and educational supplies to Cuba this year.

However, delivery of supplies to Cuba is illegal because of the United States' embargo on Cuba. Pastors for Peace opposes the embargo, Bell said.

He said the embargo costs the Cuban government about $5 billion a year. Because the embargo prevents any trade between the two countries, Cuba must spend more money to import goods from countries farther away, such as Vietnam.

In addition to the trade embargo, the United States puts restrictions on travel to Cuba, requiring visitors to have a license.

"We challenge this idea publicly by going without a license," Bell said.

When the caravanistas arrive at Cuba, they usually stay at churches for nine or 10 days, Bell said. During their time on the island, they attend cultural events and visit the Latin American School of Medicine.

Sabine Caspar, a caravanista traveling with Bell, talked at the dinner about the impact of embargo restrictions in Cuba and the country's accomplishments.

"I think the U.S. should stop interfering with Cuban policies, and I think we should let Cuba live," she said.

Many of the attendees who are not involved in Pastors for Peace were involved with the other organizations that co-sponsored the dinner.

Marvin Rogers, a retired MU professor and chairman of the board of Centro Latino, said it's extraordinary that the richest and most powerful country in the world has imposed a blockade on Cuba for more than 50 years.

"It's a disgrace to our nation, and it clearly reflects how local politics can shape and influence national policies and foreign policy," Rogers said.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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