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    Vancouver Successfully Launches 20th Pastors for Peace
    Caravan to Cuba

    By Nita Palmer

    July 2009 saw the launch of the 20th Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba. From July 1st to July 19th, over 100 caravanistas rode buses, trucks and cars on 14 different routes through the US and Canada, stopping in 140 communities to gather aid for Cuba and to hold events to raise awareness about the criminal and inhuman US blockade on Cuba. Caravanistas then crossed the US border into Mexico with over 100 tons of aid destined for Cuba. After unloading computers, construction materials, medical supplies and other aid from the school buses onto a ship destined for Cuba, caravanistas flew to Havana. There they spent eight days learning about the Cuban reality, the effects of the US blockade on the country, and the many achievements the Cuban revolution has made for humanity. Pastors for Peace, a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) has been organizing caravans to Cuba since 1992 as a challenge to the US blockade on Cuba and travel ban for US citizens going to Cuba. The following is a report from the caravan send-off events in Vancouver.

    Check back in the next issue of Fire This Time for a report on the 20th Caravan by FIRE THIS TIME editorial board members and participants in the Caravan, Nita Palmer and Alison Bodine!

    Saturday July 4th Vancouver Send-off Event!
    On Saturday July 4th 90 people came together for the 2009 Pastors for Peace Caravan send-off celebration and barbeque where the smells of delicious foods, musical performances and stories from past caravans filled the air of Trout Lake Park. The event was MC’d by Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and co-chair of the Canadian Network on Cuba. The evening opened with heartfelt works of poetry by Luis Velasquez, Dilia Ochoa, Seonaid Lamb, Alejandro Mujica-Olea and Shakeel Lochan, all supporters of Cuba who had come to share their work in celebration of the Caravan send-off.

    Following the performances, participants of all ages came together to play a game of “Get the Aid to Cuba” in which opposite teams played “US border guards” against “caravanistas” who are trying to pass them and get the aid to the Mexican border.

    Next was special guest speaker Lisa Valanti, national president of the US-Cuba Sister Cities Association and participant in all 20 Pastors for Peace Caravans to Cuba, including a successful hunger strike for 96 days to release US-seized aid bound for Cuba. Lisa spoke about the importance of the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba and Cuba solidarity organizing. She also shared her stories and experience from being on the caravan all twenty times, including the very moving story of a man from Vancouver named Bryan Rohatyn who joined Lisa and other Caravanistas in the 96-day hunger strike.

    Following Lisa, Joaquin Ernesto performed beautiful songs on his acoustic guitar. He brought together people in celebration of the next successful Caravan to Cuba and also in celebration of the success of the Caravan to Cuba thus far.

    Sunday July 5th BC/Washington Border Crossing!
    The next day, Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, Victoria Goods for Cuba, and other Cuba solidarity organizations including the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association (Vancouver) and Cuba solidarity activists from Saltspring Island, the Comox Valley and Nanaimo joined together with organizers from across Washington for the Caravan send-off at the Peace Arch Park Canada-US border crossing. Over 120 people from across British Columbia and Washington State came together to send off five Caravanistas. The event began with Randy Caravaggio, with Victoria Goods for Cuba, one of the main organizers of the Caravan from Canada and MC of the border crossing event outlining the importance of the Caravan and its challenge to the US blockade against Cuba.

    Art Farquharson, a progressive singer from Victoria, shared his music with the crowd. He was followed by talks from several of the Caravanistas, including Janine Bancroft, Rick Fellows and Lisa Valanti, who shared their thoughts on the importance of the caravan.

    Sarah Alwell, co-coordinator of the Free the Cuban Five Committee -Vancouver emphasized the importance of fighting against the blockade on Cuba. She added that everyone involved in the Cuba solidarity movement must multiply their effort to support the five Cuban men – known as the Cuban 5- being held unjustly in US jails for fighting US-backed terrorism imposed on their country.

    Heartfelt and musical performances from the Raging Grannies from Seattle and the Solidarity Notes Choir from Vancouver soon had everyone on their feet singing along to their progressive and beautiful lyrics and melodies.

    Tamara Hansen, another organizer of the event, read out the recent letter and statement of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to President Obama condemning the blockade. Tamara’s announcement was met with cheers and applause from the participants. Tamara also spoke on the importance of unity in Cuba solidarity work and our fight to end the blockade. She said, “We don’t need to just be active, but we must be active and involved in an ongoing campaign.”

    After the speakers, some participants in the Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade from Vancouver came up to sing an original song written and dedicated to the Five Cuban heroes. By the end of the song people were on their feet clapping and singing along to the chorus.

    After all of the speakers and musical performances, participants picked up signs, Cuban flags and banners and headed off to the border. The marchers were met with three honking vehicles filled with the humanitarian aid headed to Cuba. The participants marched along side the vehicles chanting, “Lift, Lift Lift the Blockade!” “US Hands Off Cuba!” and catching the attention of many driving by.

    Once on the US side of the Peace Arch Park everyone began to load the aid from the Canadian cars into the Pastors for Peace bus that carried the aid and Caravanistas through the United States. The Caravanistas said their goodbyes to the crowd of supporters, loaded into bus and the 20th Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba began its successful tour of the United States to challenge the immoral and criminal US blockade on Cuba!

    For more information on Pastors for Peace, please visit: www.pastorsforpeace.org

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