My father felt a great respect for Fidel and always said that there was no contradiction between faith and the principles of the Cuban Revolution, stated Gail Walker, executive director of the U.S. project Pastors for Peace and daughter of the late Reverend Lucius Walker, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Friendship Caravan, which has been undertaking solidarity work with the island since 1992.
Speaking before national and international press in Havana, the outstanding activist highlighted numerous activities taking place in honor of the Comandante en Jefe’s 90th birthday, August 13, in various U.S. states, including New York City where she lives.
One of the tributes will include placing a commemorative plaque in the Theresa Hotel, located in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and where Fidel, then Prime Minister of Cuba, stayed while attending the 15th United Nations General Assembly, in 1960. At that time the Cuban delegation was scheduled to stay at the Manhattan hotel, but was denied entry by the institution’s management. On hearing the news, African American leader Malcolm X invited the Cubans to Harlem where they were welcomed by local community members, who kept watch over the hotel day and night.
Walker noted that the project is planning to install a statue of Fidel with Malcolm X sometime in the near future. “We want to show the world the close relationship between these two figures and human rights defenders. We will celebrate August 13 with a photographic exposition by Cuban artist Roberto Chile in a New York gallery, while various activities will also be taking place in California,” she stated.
Describing the fraternal relationship between her father and the former President of Cuba, she related a personal anecdote, noting that during a public act in the Ebenezer Church, in the Havana municipality of Marianao, Lucius presented Fidel with a bible, to which the latter responded that the book was not yet complete as many pages of love and solidarity – such as the work undertaken by the Pastors for Peace Caravan - still remained to be written. “This was my first experience before the Cuban leader and marked me for the rest of my life,” noted Gail, who became executive director of the organization in 2010, following the death of her father.
Pastors for Peace is a project organized by the Interfaith Cultural Organization (IFCO), founded in 1988 in response to U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of Latin American governments and against the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.
Since 1990, Pastors for Peace has been carrying out various solidarity activities to demand a definitive end to the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by successive U.S. administrations on Cuba for over 55 years; the return of the Guantánamo territory on which an illegal military base and prison - where acts of torture take place - is located; challenge U.S. laws preventing citizens from that country traveling to the island for tourist purposes; as well as calling on U.S. citizens to visit Cuba to learn about the island’s reality and achievements of the Revolution.
It is important to note that the solidarity group has organized several hunger strikes and protests. During the 1993 Caravan, officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury seized a bus at the Mexican border crossing in Laredo. The 13 activists on board decided to remain on the bus until it was released, initiating a hunger strike which lasted 23 days. After mobilizations in 20 cities around the world and a protest in front of the former U.S. Interests Section in Havana, the vehicle was returned.
Three years later, the sixth Caravan transported 400 medical computers to the island to support exchanges between doctors. The U.S. government confiscated all the devices on the San Diego border, which was met with more protests by activists and Cuban solidarity campaigners. These actions forced authorities to return the cargo 94 days later.
Gail Walker noted that the 27th edition of the Caravan toured 48 U.S. cities, along three routes, where public events in churches, community centers and universities were held.
During these activities, participants explained that, despite the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the U.S. intentions to colonize Cuba have not changed, hence the continuation of its annexationist schemes and framework of oppressive laws included within the blockade policy.
”We have been bringing together young talents from the U.S. and Cuba to create literary works,” noted Gail Walker. These pieces explain in a clear and concise way the negative impact of the blockade and how Cubans have circumvented the damages to survive with dignity. We talk about favorable migration laws available exclusively to Cubans and no other kind of immigrants, established in the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy (the latter are deported while the former are granted legal status in the country). We report on achievements in education, and public health, as well as the different ways in which the Revolution combats race, gender, or faith-based discrimination.”
She also explained how participants presented a pamphlet to legislators while visiting Congressional offices in Washington to inform Congress people that normalization of relations will not be possible while such obstacles remain in place.
This year’s Caravan also included Cubans living in the U.S. who spoke about their experiences living under the blockade.
From July 18-28, the group, composed of 29 U.S. citizens, nine Mexicans, two Swedes and one German, undertook a program of activities, including visits to important economic, social and cultural sites around the capital and western Province of Pinar del Río; exchanges with writers, intellectuals and members of the Cuban medical brigade who fought Ebola in West Africa; they also attended the graduation ceremony for medical students from the University of Medical Sciences of Havana, 900 of whom received their degrees in medicine, dentistry, nursing and health technology.